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Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People's Justice Hardcover – March 19, 2013
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Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet
"Our country’s indigent defense crisis profoundly undermines the accuracy and fairness of our criminal justice system for defendants, victims, and the public alike. With clarity and power, Chasing Gideon demonstrates this crisis, the reasons behind it, and the ways to fix it. It is a mustread for anyone who cares about justice."
Virginia Sloan, executive director, The Constitution Project
"The Gideon decision provides an essential mechanism for making the ideal of justice a reality, even for America’s most marginalized people. Author Karen Houppert compellingly examines the multitude of ways in which that mechanism remains under attack fifty years after it was established. Realizing the promise of Gideon often requires overcoming parsimony, political pressure, and the malignant indifference of government bodies and the public at large. Chasing Gideon illustrates the scope and seriousness of the indigent defense crisis nationally and makes the case that defending Gideon is essential and a true test of our nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all."
Anthony D. Romero, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union
"Having spent much of my career building a movement of public defenders across the South working to make Gideon’s promise a reality, I am grateful to Karen Houppert for helping readers understand just how far we are from realizing the right to adequate counsel for all. Chasing Gideon shines a bright light on the crisis of indigent defense and challenges us to finally live up to our most cherished democratic principles."
Jonathan Rapping, associate professor, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, and president and founder of Gideon’s Promise
"Houppert demonstrates that most public defenders are dedicated lawyers but face severe disadvantages due to overwhelming case loads, inadequate budgets for expert witnesses and the like, as well as the nature of the criminal justice system, which often emphasizes the desirability of a plea bargain instead of taking a case to a full trial by judge or jury a wellresearched and [well]written investigation that shows the inadequacies in stark human terms rather than as an abstraction."
"Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed in Gideon v. Wainwright the right to free counsel to all defendants facing the possibility of imprisonment if they were unable to procure it themselves. Today, more than 80 percent of defendants are represented by public defenders. Here, Houppert (contributing writer, Washington Post Magazine; Home Fires Burning: Married to the Militaryfor Better or Worse) takes up the call of Anthony Lewis’s classic Gideon’s Trumpet and examines what has changedand what has notin the past five decades. What results is a stinging indictment of a system of indigent defense, a widespread failure that, the author claims, dooms the nation’s poor to being represented by insufficient counsel, unwise plea bargains, and wrongful convictions. Houppert examines public defense systems in Washington, Louisiana, and Georgia and follows illustrative cases: a teenager facing vehicular manslaughter charges, a prisoner who has served nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit, and a defendant facing the death penalty.
VERDICT Fluent and fluid, Houppert’s book has all the urgency this subject demands and is a page-turner. Alternately thrilling and gut-riling, this book will grab and hold lovers of great nonfiction. Highly recommended."
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Houppert sets out to examine the current state of criminal defense first be revisiting Gideon itself, and the back story behind the case (it turns out Gideon probably had the help of a lawyer when filing his handwritten pro se petition to the Supreme Court). She then goes on to examine individual cases in Washington State, Louisiana, and Georgia, to see how the right to counsel plays out in the trial courts of each state. She demonstrates both how important a lawyer is and how overburdened those lawyers are.
The cases represent a good cross section: a vehicular manslaughter, a trespassing/burglary case, and two murders--one a wrongful conviction, the other a mentally retarded man facing the death penalty.
Superb storytelling--masterfully interweaving facts and figures into these case studies to present a damning picture of criminal defense today.
Anyone interested in criminal law, from either side of the adversarial system, needs to read this book. Hopefully it will motivate a few people of influence to help give the accused in court a slightly better shot at justice than they can expect now.
However, it is very good in pointing out the problems the US has in providing for fair trials to indigent arrestees. Also points out that, in our "adversarial" justice system, whomever has the best lawyer wins, not who is guilty or innocent. Scary.
Most heartening, Houppert describes some very dedicated lawyers, willing to earn less than they could in order to pursue a defense in face of the death penalty.
A must read for law students & legal professionals.