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Gideon At 60: Public Defense Op-Eds

March 18, 2023, marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which anchored the right to counsel in the United States. This Anniversary is a time to celebrate the work being done day in and day out by public defenders, contractors, and court appointed attorneys. These opinion articles, authored by public defenders and advocates, demonstrate the power of public defense.

'Right to an attorney' only goes so far. Our war on crime leaves injustice in its wake, by April Frazier Camara, Lori James-Townes, and Lisa Monet Wayne, USA Today

For the first time in history, the leaders of the nation’s three preeminent organizations of criminal attorneys are Black women, leading the cause of defending against injustice and government overreach. We carry the weight of the communities we serve, communities with so many unmet needs beyond the right to an attorney. And serving those needs – such as equitable opportunities for housing, education, health care, behavioral health services, child care and jobs with living wages – would do more to make our society safe than building more jails and prisons in America. Public defense plays an essential role in these areas.

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Don’t ask a public defender about defending guilty people, ask how good it feels to defend the Constitution, by Deborah Levi, The Baltimore Sun

“Did he do it? Do you know?” “How do you defend people who are actually guilty?” These are always the first questions I get when people learn that I am a public defender. Their focus is always on guilt and how wretched it must be to stand with people who are accused of such heinous crimes. This Friday marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which formally established the right to counsel for people accused of a crime in the United States. In honor of Public Defense Day, and in celebration of my colleagues, I want to share what it is actually like to be a public defender.

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Celebrating public defenders as the 60th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright approaches, by Todd Ewell, InForum North Dakota

"Often overlooked, undervalued and disrespected are those constitutionally required public defenders," writes Todd Ewell, deputy director of the North Dakota Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents

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Happy Supreme Court anniversary, Mr. Gideon! Now let’s address the causes of mass incarceration, by Heather Rogers, Lookout Santa Cruz

Do you know who Clarence Earl Gideon was? Heather Rogers, Santa Cruz County’s first public defender, reminds us why we should all celebrate an unhoused drifter who 60 years ago changed the American legal system by standing up for his right to a fair trial. She walks us through her first seven months on the job, supplies some statistics on our prison system and pushes us to take a hard look at mass incarceration: “I urge you to question whether prosecution and incarceration are the answer for conduct related to mental illness … where treatment is more likely to get better results,” she writes.

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Respect the Truth about Public Defenders, by Alison Frutoz, Medium

As a public defender for the last 25 years, every day I have walked into the Douglas County courthouse on the side of Truth. Our courthouse has three entrances. My office enters the courthouse under the word “Truth;” the District Attorney’s Office is on the side marked “Justice.” It has always struck me as funny — and revealing — that Justice and Truth do not share the same side. I think most people would expect that truth and justice would work together in our court system, but as public defenders we quickly learn this is more often the exception than the rule.

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Defensores de sus derechos: el 60 aniversario de una decisión judicial clave, por Linda Backiel, Eileen N. Díaz Ortiz, y Franco Pérez Redondo, El Nuevo Día

Hoy celebramos el sexagésimo aniversario de Gideon v. Wainwright, que estableció el deber de los estados de proveer asistencia legal gratuita a los acusados no pudientes. Puerto Rico se adelantó. Desde 1952 su Constitución garantiza el derecho a asistencia legal para toda persona  indigente acusada de delito grave. Ocho años antes de Gideon, se creó la Sociedad para Asistencia Legal (SAL) con el firme propósito de ofrecer representación legal excelente y gratuita.

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The Legacy of Gideon’s Promise on 60th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, by Alice Fontier, Medium

Public defenders provide the services that create true public safety. We keep families united, connect our clients to a wide range of much-needed services (such as childcare, mental health treatment and job training) and help people stay in their homes. In the state and city budget battles taking place this month, New York’s leading public defenders and civil legal services — including my organization, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem — are calling on Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul to live up to “Gideon’s promise” and allocate funds to ensure a high standard of quality legal representation for low-income New Yorkers.

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Interested in writing your own op-ed to celebrate public defense? NACDL’s Communications Team is here to help! Contact Jonathan Hutson,, Jessie Diamond,, and Kate Holden, for more information.

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