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52 U. Louisville L. Rev. Online 22 (2013)
Amplifying Gideon's Trumpet, Revitalizing Gideon's Rule: A Prescription for Action
William J. Leahy*

As every comprehensive national report concerning the right to counsel has declared, the evidence is overwhelming that we have failed as a nation to realize the dream of Gideon, at least in our state and local courts where a majority of criminal cases arise. We must face the fact that most poor people charged with crime in America are not “capably defended.” Furthermore, most lawyers who provide their representation are not “sure of the support needed to make an adequate defense.” We must acknowledge that today, 50 years later, the Supreme Court’s proud declaration that “[t]he right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours” bespeaks more irony than truth. Today, while the U.S. homicide rate is almost
exactly the same as it was in 1963, and the rate of violent crime, although higher than in 1963, has been in continuous annual decline for many years, we incarcerate almost seven times the number of people relative to population than we did in 1963. Indeed, we are the undisputed world leader in the frequency of incarceration. If the right to counsel was intended to protect and vindicate the rights of the poor, it is hard to find evidence that Gideon has been a success.

* William J. Leahy, Director, New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services. An earlier version of Part 1 appears on the website of the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, available at