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Tonight at 9 ET HBO is playing the documentary, Gideon's Army. It's about three public defenders and their work. Their work, lest we miss it, is no less than embodying the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the right to free legal representation in criminal cases granted decades ago in Gideon v. Wainwright.
If we're going to have rational policies about crime and justice in the US, this documentary will inform the discussion. It will do that by revealing what goes on in situations non-lawyer (and people not accused of crimes) just don't know about.
Why am I telling Kossacks not to miss this show?
I was a public defender in New York for decades, and this is a topic close to my heart. Most people do not understand what's involved and what it means to fight for the Sixth Amendment. And most people don't understand the toll it takes on the advocates. And that those who fill these jobs are often heroes. Or the obvious difficulties in making the Sixth Amendment real: most governments who pay for the representation don't give a damn about whether it's any good. Nobody gets up at the local board of supervisors meeting or in the state legislature to say, "We want to make the best possible Public Defense system. The Constitution requires it." And the Courts, in fact, will tell you that all the accused is entitled to is adequate representation. No. If there's good representation, its because of the courage and dedication of the lawyers. They're underpaid. The best ones fight like hell and they give a defense that nobody could afford, even if they were loaded.