A veteran journalist investigates the way justice is delivered to the poor--and discovers a crisis in our nation's courts.
There is the harrowing saga of a young man who is charged with involuntary vehicular homicide in Washington State, where overextended public defenders juggle impossible caseloads, forcing his defender to go to court to protect her own right to provide an adequate defense. In Florida, Houppert describes a public defender’s office, loaded with upward of seven hundred cases per attorney, and discovers the degree to which Clarence Earl Gideon’s promise is still unrealized. In New Orleans, she follows the case of a man imprisoned for twenty-seven years for a crime he didn’t commit, finding a public defense system already near collapse before Katrina and chronicling the harrowing months after the storm, during which overworked volunteers and students struggled to get the system working again. In Georgia, Houppert finds a mentally disabled man who is to be executed for murder, despite the best efforts of a dedicated but severely overworked and underfunded capital defender.
Half a century after Anthony Lewis’s award-winning Gideon’s Trumpet brought us the story of the court case that changed the American justice system, Chasing Gideon is a crucial book that provides essential reckoning of our attempts to implement this fundamental constitutional right.
In the 50 years since the Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the constitutional right to free counsel for the poor when accused of a crime, the problem of providing legal representation for poor defendants has reached crisis proportions. In this in-depth yet accessible exploration, Houppert (MA in Writing Program, Johns Hopkins University) analyzes Gideon v. Wainwright and four modern cases that are representative of the indigent defense crisis. The cases are made especially poignant with the voices and stories of the actual defendants caught in a dysfunctional system in which innocent people are routinely jailed and denied basic access to an attorney. The author also describes innovative efforts of committed lawyers and policymakers to fix the broken system. B&w photos of the defendants are included. The author's work has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine and the New York Times. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
On the 50th anniversary of
the elusive quest for poor people's justice
From the critics
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