Abstract

The landmark case of “Gideon v. Wainwright” (1963) ensured the right of criminal defendants across the country to the effective assistance of counsel, but the overwhelming consensus is that the promise of “Gideon” has not been kept. Although there are significant differences in the delivery of indigent defense services across the country, there are four general reasons for the failure of “Gideon” that obtain across every jurisdiction and collectively cover much of the explanatory terrain: 1) its mandate is inadequately and precariously funded; 2) institutional impediments have impinged on the independence, training and oversight, and advocacy culture of indigent defense counsel; 3) legal remedies for ineffective assistance of counsel are often inadequate, inaccessible, or both; and 4) the ubiquitous practice of plea bargaining shields inadequate representation from view or remedy. Vindicating the right of poor people to effective representation in criminal cases remains a daunting but enormously important task.

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