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Gideon and the short happy life of California's Public Defender Office
By Charles M. Sevilla
Gideon’s guarantee of the right to counsel reminded me of
what President Andrew Jackson said of another Supreme Court decision. He said
that the Court made its ruling, now let it enforce it.1 The
implementation of Gideon’s promise over the last 40 years has been no easier.
Yet, what could have been less controversial than Gideon’s
guarantee of the right to counsel? Pitting defendants without lawyers against
trained prosecutors was like sending unarmed children to fight Roman
gladiators. What right could better insure individual and societal dignity?
We look back and see undeniable gains since Gideon but also
difficulties. I have seen both. In 1976, just 13 years after Gideon, the California
State Public Defender Office was born. Its main task was the representation of
thousands of indigent felons on their appeal. It was created after a model
demonstration project in San Diego, Appellate Defenders, Inc., showed the
advantages of an office of advocates delivering legal services
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