In this three-part series, our New Thinking podcast explores the unfulfilled potential of public defense through the lens of the Supreme Court’s 1963 Gideon decision.
The Gideon v. Wainwright decision guaranteed a lawyer to anyone facing incarceration, regardless of whether they could afford one. Sixty years on, New Thinking looks at the unrealized promise of the landmark ruling. Examining the potential for a well-funded public defense system to keep more people out of jail—and, through eviction prevention, in their homes—the series explores what might change if everyone received the representation they need and deserve.
Thank you to Arnold Ventures for supporting this important work.
"On every anniversary of Gideon, liberals bemoan the state of indigent defense." On the decision's sixtieth birthday, there is still much to bemoan. Yet as the harms of the criminal legal system come into sharper relief, there is a larger question: even if Gideon's promise was fulfilled, how much would that change who principally suffers under the current system: the poor and people of color?
“Tenants who are not represented lose almost automatically.” Gideon has proved far from a guarantee of effective representation in criminal cases, but on the civil side, the right to counsel doesn’t even exist on paper. In the series’ second episode, New Thinking offers a documentary profile of the fight to secure lawyers for people facing eviction and the radical impact the campaign is having in Housing Court.
Vincent Schiraldi used to run probation in New York City; now he’s questioning whether it should exist at all. Schiraldi says some of the roots of mass supervision—and its connection to mass incarceration—can be found in a surprising place: 1963's Gideon decision. Hear the final episode in New Thinking’s “Gideon at 60” series.
- Policy brief: The Failure of Gideon and the Promise of Public Defense
- The Arc: “Hiding in Plain Sight”: The Untapped Power of Public Defense
- Center for Justice Innovation's Sixth Amendment Initiative