Courts Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice Gender Juvenile Justice

50 Years of Gideon—the Case That Created the Right to Public Defense…Plus Failing Our Girls in the Juvie Justice System… & More $$ for the LASD


We have all heard the text of the Miranda warning recited in films and on episodic TV shows at least a zillion times:

You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
You have the right to an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

What most of us don’t know or don’t remember is the fact that the last line—the thing about a lawyer being provided for those who can’t afford one—is a right that is only half a century old.

Monday, March 18, marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, which guarantees the right to counsel for criminal defendants in state courts who
cannot afford an attorney.

But, despite this remarkable Supreme Court decision that changed American legal history, and despite the hard work of many dedicated public defenders, the system, say experts, is close to broken, with overloaded public defenders often able to spend little more than 3 hours on a clients entire case.

The AP’s Mark Sherman has a story on the topic. Here’s a clip:

….So that was the promise of Gideon — that a competent lawyer for the defense would stand on an equal footing with prosecutors, and that justice would prevail, at least in theory.

A half-century later, there are parts of the country where “it is better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor. Leahy said court-appointed lawyers often are underpaid and can be “inexperienced, inept, uninterested or worse.”

Regardless of guilt or innocence, few of those accused of crimes are rich, while 80 percent say they are too poor to afford a lawyer.

People who work in the criminal justice system have become numb to the problems, creating a culture of low expectations, said Jonathan Rapping, a veteran public defender who has worked in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New Orleans.

Rapping remembers walking into a courtroom in New Orleans for the first time for a client’s initial appearance before a judge. Several defendants in jump suits were shackled together in one part of the courtroom. The judge moved briskly through charges against each of the men, with a lawyer speaking up for each one.

Then he called a name and there was no lawyer present. The defendant piped up. “The guy said he hadn’t seen a lawyer since he was locked up 70 days ago. And no one in the courtroom was shocked. No one was surprised,” Rapping said.

A new award-winning documentary called “Gideon’s Army” gives a visceral feeling for the problem, and the idealism of some of the young public defenders who are trying to make a difference, despite the odds.


The juvenile justice system was—and in most ways still is—-designed for boys. And that’s a problem.

Yes, boys greatly outnumber girls in the justice system but girls’ numbers have been growing. Between 1991 and 2003, girls’ detentions rose by 98 percent, compared to a 29 percent increase in boys’

More recently, as the number of juvenile arrests has dropped in the U.S., the drop is far bigger for boys than for girls. (In 2010, boys’ arrests had decreased by 26.5 percent since 2001, while girls’ arrests had decreased by only 15.5 percent.)

Girls come into detention facilities for different reasons and with different needs from those of their male counterparts, and yet they are often treated with a cookie cutter sameness.

For instance, 19 percent of boys in juvenile detention facilities had tried to commit suicide, while 44 percent of girls had.

In terms of physical abuse, the split was 22 percent boys, 42 percent girls.

And 8 percent of boys admitted to being sexually abused; 35 percent of girls had been sexually abused.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to differences—and the needs they suggest.

The Sunday LA Times has a story by Anna Gorman on the subject. And it is an important topic that we’ll continue to return to over the next year.

Here’s a clip from Gorman’s report:

Latrice lifts the sleeve of her gray sweatshirt to reveal small, dark lines — scars from slicing her forearm over and over to drown out pain from years of sexual abuse. She says she was an alcoholic, dropped out of school in the eighth grade and got pregnant at 16.

Now 18, she is in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system because she violated probation. Latrice says she has been locked up more than 20 times in four years. Petite and talkative, she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and takes antidepressants.

Her health issues — and those of about 9,400 girls in juvenile detention centers around the nation — are serious and complex. Many of the girls don’t have regular doctors, so their physical and emotional problems often go undiagnosed and untreated. That continues when they enter a system that was designed for boys and has been slow to adapt to girls.

“Their health needs are different; they are more severe and more complicated than boys’,” said Catherine Gallagher, a George Mason University professor and an expert in juvenile justice. “They come in underserved…. They remain underserved.”

More than one-third of girls in custody nationwide have a history of sexual abuse, compared with 8% of boys. Girls also have had more physical abuse, suicide attempts and drug-related problems, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Few juvenile justice centers have shown they meet minimum healthcare standards, and girls are less likely than boys to get the care they need.

Both the Atlantic Monthly and NPR did good stories —both by reporter Jenny Gold—on the needs of girls that are worth reading and/or listening.

Here, also is one of the studies from the Department of Justice with some of the facts and figures.


Christina Villacorte of the Daily News has the story:

With the inmate population steadily increasing, Sheriff Lee Baca will ask the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to study replacing the dilapidated and violence-plagued Men’s Central Jail with a $932.8-million high-tech facility, and consider relying more on electronic monitoring devices and other alternatives to incarceration.

The proposal at this stage is to hire a contractor to prepare a conceptual design and environmental impact review.

In a letter to the board, Baca and county chief executive officer William Fujioka said it was “critical” to begin the process of replacing the aging MCJ with a more efficient facility that would hold high-security and medical inmates.

The proposed new jail would be built on the site of the half-century-old MCJ in downtown Los Angeles. It is envisioned to house up to 3,500 high-security and medical inmates in two towers.

Baca and County CEO are also scheduled to ask for $22 million in order to restore adequate patrols in the county’s unincorporated areas. (So what happened to that independent audit that was going to be done on the department’s budget to find out where the money was going. Here’s that story—also from Villacorte at the DN.

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