BALTIMORE – While the 50-year-old Supreme Court ruling that held lawyers in criminal courts are “necessities, not luxuries” forever changed the nation’s judicial landscape, legal professionals argue its promises have largely gone unfulfilled.
Sentenced to five years in prison, Clarence Earl Gideon, a poor drifter arrested and charged with theft in Florida, penciled a five-page petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on prison stationary, appealing to fairness and equality after he was denied counsel in 1961.
The Supreme Court granted Gideon’s petition, appointing a prominent Washington lawyer to represent him. Gideon was acquitted in a retrial after his attorney discredited the testimony of a key witness.
Both the U.S. Department of Justice and University of Maryland School of Law recently commemorated the landmark ruling.
Hosted by the Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion Gender and Class, Maryland law professor Douglas Colbert moderated a panel featuring Executive Director Timothy J. Murray of the Pretrial Justice Institute, Maryland Deputy Public Defender Charles H. Dorsey III, American University law professor Cynthia Jones and Maryland professor Chris Flohr on March 22.
“You are guilty until proven rich in this country in this state and in this city,” Murray said. “You’re more likely to be locked up before you have a chance to plea; you’re more likely to be locked up without a lawyer, than once convicted.”
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Attorney General Eric Holder and Vice-President Walter Mondale delivered remarks at the Department of Justice on March 15.
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