The Champion

January/February 2003 , Page 44 

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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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