The Gideon Bible

I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

In 1963, the landmark Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, established it is a fundamental 6th Amendment right for indigent defendants to be furnished counsel at state expense.

A new study published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, of which I am a member, has shown that, 50 years later, Gideon’s promise — that all defendants receive equal justice under the law — is largely hollow.

For one thing, court-appointed defense attorneys receive perhaps a quarter of their ordinary hourly rates to defend indigent clients, often with a cap on the maximum fee they may recover that is frequently even a lesser fraction of their flat fees.

Although I’ve never put less effort into a pro bono (free) case than into my highest-paying case, for other lawyers with greater stressors in their lives, it may be readily apparent that a lawyer who charges $250-$400 an hour may indeed choose to put fewer hours into a court-appointed case that pays $65 an hour. No, it isn’t right.

But, want to know something that isn’t even righter? In Detroit, this study reveals, a court-appointed lawyer who pleads his client guilty gets paid $200 more than a lawyer who gets his client a dismissal.

Can you hear Mr. Gideon spinning?

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