For decades, scholars, lawyers, and judges have spotlighted what is now recognized as a permanent state of crisis in the system of public defense in the United States. More than fifty years after the watershed decision in Gideon v. Wainwright declared the states must provide counsel to indigents accused of felonies, it is acknowledged that criminal defense systems fail to live up to the promise. The reality is grim. Funding is sorely lacking to provide even minimally adequate defense in most offices around the country. As celebrated Southern Poverty Law Center director Stephen Bright has observed, “[n]o constitutional right is celebrated so much in the abstract and observed so little in reality as the right to counsel.”
Defense lawyers, judges, scholars, bar leaders, and other thought leaders wring their hands about the state of Gideon fifty years after its initial promise. Articles abound discussing this state of perpetual crisis, including the necessity for legislatures and the courts to take action to assure at least minimal funding.