The 50th Anniversary of Gideon and Brady

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of two of the most important Supreme Court decisions in the history of criminal law. First cameGideon v. Wainwright, the landmark decision that established the right to an attorney in criminal cases across the country. For those that don't know, when the Supreme Court makes a decision, it becomes precedent - the rule of law - for all other courts because they are beneath it. When Gideon was decided, it established the system we now know largely as the public defenders. Mr. Gideon was charged with breaking and entering with a count of theft in the State of Florida. Someone had stolen cigarettes and money from a pool hall and Mr. Gideon was convicted at trial after being refused an attorney. He appealed his conviction without any help and only with a pencil, sent the appeal to the Supreme Court and ultimately won the appeal, making it the rule that all those who cannot afford an attorney are given one in the United States. While Gideon's promise is a beautiful one, we must not forget the high case numbers and low salaries that public defenders are given in this country. Much of their defense is inadequate. Help support public defense in your state and county by lobbying your local state representative for more resources for the PD's office.

The other landmark case is Brady v. Maryland. Mr. Brady was convicted of murder along with a codefendant. He had admitted that he was present; however, Mr. Brady was adamant that his co-defendant had committed the murder. In his case, prosecutors and police officers hid a note where the co-defendant had confessed and admitted to acting alone in committing the murder. On appeal, the Supreme Court established a new type of evidence now known as "Brady Evidence" - any fact or evidence that might be exculpatory - that might tend to show a defendant's innocence - must be turned over to the defense if in the State's possession. Since then, countless Brady violations have been discovered including in Jackson County on a regular basis. Huffington Post has an amazing article about the failures of the court in upholding Brady - showing that most defense attorneys know that Brady violations happen on a daily basis without much fear of repercussion. Vigilant, zealous defense is the only remedy for this type of prosecutorial and official misconduct.