Memphis Bar Association Highlights 50th Anniversary of Gideon, Public Defense in Shelby County

Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender lobby
Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender

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 Wainwright before 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?

Read our cover story in the most recent edition of the Memphis Bar Association magazine, Memphis Lawyer.  You can read this article and the full issue of Memphis Lawyer here.

Or you can read a PDF version of our article below. Try it in Fullscreen mode!

Digital Pull-Out from Memphis Lawyer magazine

University of Memphis Law Students Bring ‘Street Court’ to Alternative Spring Break


The Univeristy of Memphis Public Action Law Society (PALS), a community-focused, student-led organization, is adding “Street Court” to its annual Alternative Spring Break.  This will mark the first time PALS has included a criminal defense track in this popular program.

The Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is designed to serve the Memphis community while giving law students from all over the country practical legal experience.  The University of Memphis program is the only law-focused alternative spring break in the U.S. that recruits students from across the country. More than 60 students from eight law schools participated last year.

PALS added the criminal defense track to its spring break program after partnering with the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office this summer to bring Memphis its first “Street Court.”  The effort was part of Project Homeless Connect 2, a day long blitz of services for the city’s homeless population.

Street Court brings together a judge, law clerk, prosecutors, public defenders, and a host of law students to create a temporary court designed to expedite expungment orders and fee waivers for impoverished, low-level offenders.


Callie Caldwell and Andrew Solarski (U of M Law School) discuss the logistics of the spring break “Street Court” with Josh Spickler (Shelby County Public Defender’s Office) during Launch Memphis’ Field Day. 

This past week, the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office met with ASB organizers to assist with this student-led version of Street Court.  The week-long experience will take place this March and will introduce law students to the challenges of providing legal services to homeless and low income people. It will also introduce students to the victories… freeing a person from court debt or old criminal charges to give her another chance at a productive life.

The 2013 ASB will also offer tracks in pro se divorce, immigration, and legislative drafting for non-profits.

We are thankful to these dedicated law students for making Memphis a more just city.

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This blog is created by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. Memphis, Tennessee.