Innocence Blog

You Have the Right to an Attorney

Posted: March 14, 2013 6:00 pm

A new article in The Atlantic reflects on how the criminal justice system has been impacted by the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright fifty years later. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial lawyer to every criminal defendant in a felony trial. Though everyone is entitled to counsel, far too often the attorneys they receive are ineffective, leading to wrongful convictions. 

In an effort to fix the problem, the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association urged Congress to establish a federally funded Center for Indigent Defense Services. And lawyers and judges in the American Bar Association are working on a proposal called National Indigent Defense Reform in an attempt to return meaning to the promise of Gideon, according to The Atlantic.

In the end, 50 years after one of the most glorious chapters in the history of the Supreme Court, we tell ourselves that we are a nation of laws, and we praise ourselves for rulings like Gideon, and we extol the virtues of the Constitution in theory, but the truth is we are just lying to ourselves and each other when we pretend that there is equal justice in America. Either there is a right to counsel or there isn't. And if there is such a right, we all have an obligation to ensure it is recognized -- not just in the history books, and not just in a television movie, and not just in a dusty law book, but in the everyday lives of our fellow citizens.

Read the full article

Read more about how ineffective assistance has contributed to wrongful convictions