The 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Gideon vs Wainwright has sparked a national conversation about the state of public defense. Many of the stories have looked at the broader effects of the landmark case which established the right to appointed counsel.
The ACLU is taking a more focused storytelling approach by featuring the people who encounter our public defense system on a daily basis. The Gideon Real Stories Project was launched on March 18th, 2013 – the 50th anniversary of Gideon.
The inaugural post features Shelby County Assistant Public Defender, Ben Rush.
Rush, a graduate of University of Mississippi Law School, has been with the Shelby County Public Defender’s office since 2011. He is assigned to General Sessions Criminal Court, the busiest courtrooms in the county. He is a Gideon’s Promise Fellow — a program for the nation’s top young public defenders to receive training in client-centered lawyering.
In his interview for the ACLU’s Gideon Real Stories Project, Rush talks about the dilemma his impoverished clients face — immediately plead guilty to a crime or sit in jail awaiting their day in court, because they can’t afford bail.
Listen here to this brief, but powerful interview with Rush.
Next week will mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision that established the right to counsel for all Americans facing incarceration, regardless of their ability to pay.
In 1963, Memphian Abe Fortas was part of the legal team that successfully argued Gideon vs Wainwrightbefore the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision held that the 6th Amendment provided the right to appointed counsel in state felony cases. The Court added that counsel for indigent defendents is an essential element of a “fair trial” and argued that states are responsible for meeting this mandate through the Fourteenth Amendment.
This decision would eventually be extended to anyone facing deprivation of liberty.
This is the charge of the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender and all systems like it across the country. But 50 years after Gideon, has this promise of effective counsel for all been met?