Gideon: Unfulfilled at 50

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"You have the right to remain silent. You have to right to an attorney...If you cannot afford one, one will be provided for you at no cost to you..."

We all know this refrain, echoed time and time again by cops on TV and cops on our neighborhood streets. But is this promise actually fulfilled for those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer?

Until Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteed legal representation regardless of your ability to pay, dire poverty could unfairly stack the scales of justice against a poor person charged with a felony. This coming Monday will mark the 50th anniversary of Gideon, and we should take a moment to acknowledge our debt to Clarence Earl Gideon, whose handwritten petition to the Supreme Court resulted in this landmark decision holding that a poor person accused of a felony is entitled to counsel if he cannot afford his own lawyer.

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