Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)

Commentary by Jon Roland

While I generally concur in the decision and opinions in this case, it is with a caution. In recogizing a right to have the state provide counsel, it did not go far enough, because it did not specify that the counsel must be the choice of the accused, and not of the judge. This case was not as long a step forward as many civil libertarians would like to think. It opened the door further to an abuse that was already apparent, the practice of providing indigent defendants in criminal cases with lawyers, often poorly prepared and poorly paid, often over the objections of the accused, from a pool of public defenders under the control of the courts and prone to be more representative of the interests of the government than of their client. The result has too often been the conviction of innocent persons, who are often persuaded by their court-appointed lawyers to plead to a lesser offense, even when they are totally innocent, or to have such counsel offer inadequate defense. This has further led to more litigation arising from claims of inadequate representation. It has also led to the widespread practice of public defenders trading a conviction of one of their clients on a greater charge for a lesser charge against another client, without disclosure of such negotiations to either client.

The precedent set in this case will not be complete until it is followed by one that establishes the right of the accused to counsel of his choice, and to have such counsel compensated at a level sufficient to enable him to have of choice of competent counsel who will represent him and not the government.

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