Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People's Justice

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Overview


First published to mark the fifty-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed the right to legal counsel for all criminal defendants, Chasing Gideon is “a hugely important book” (New York Law Journal) that gives us a visceral, unforgettable experience of our systemic failure to fulfill this basic constitutional right. Written in the tradition of Gideon’s Trumpet, by the late Anthony Lewis, this is “a book of nightmares,” as Leonard Pitts wrote in the Miami Herald, ...
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Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People's Justice

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Overview


First published to mark the fifty-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed the right to legal counsel for all criminal defendants, Chasing Gideon is “a hugely important book” (New York Law Journal) that gives us a visceral, unforgettable experience of our systemic failure to fulfill this basic constitutional right. Written in the tradition of Gideon’s Trumpet, by the late Anthony Lewis, this is “a book of nightmares,” as Leonard Pitts wrote in the Miami Herald, because it shows that the “‘justice system’ too often produces the opposite of what its name suggests, particularly for its most vulnerable constituents.”

Following its publication, Chasing Gideon, which ACLU director Anthony Romero said “illustrates the scope and seriousness of the indigent defense crisis,” became an integral part of a growing national conversation about how to reform indigent defense in America, coordinated with an HBO documentary and a website to promote the book and the movie. The effort spread news about Chasing Gideon directly to public defenders offices nationwide and drove a national conversation about what Eric Holder called the “shameful state of affairs” of indigent defense (in the Washington Post).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Chasing Gideon is a wonderful book, its human stories gripping, its insight into how our law is made profound. Fifty years after the Gideon case was decided by the Supreme Court, the struggle to give poor criminal defendants a fair chance in court is still being fought—by lawyers, judges, and an inspired writer, Karen Houppert."
—Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet

"Our country’s indigent defense crisis profoundly undermines the accuracy and fairness of our criminal justice system for defendants, victims, and the public alike. With clarity and power, Chasing Gideon demonstrates this crisis, the reasons behind it, and the ways to fix it. It is a must–read for anyone who cares about justice."
—Virginia Sloan, executive director, The Constitution Project

"The Gideon decision provides an essential mechanism for making the ideal of justice a reality, even for America’s most marginalized people. Author Karen Houppert compellingly examines the multitude of ways in which that mechanism remains under attack fifty years after it was established. Realizing the promise of Gideon often requires overcoming parsimony, political pressure, and the malignant indifference of government bodies and the public at large. Chasing Gideon illustrates the scope and seriousness of the indigent defense crisis nationally and makes the case that defending Gideon is essential and a true test of our nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all."
—Anthony D. Romero, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union

"Having spent much of my career building a movement of public defenders across the South working to make Gideon’s promise a reality, I am grateful to Karen Houppert for helping readers understand just how far we are from realizing the right to adequate counsel for all. Chasing Gideon shines a bright light on the crisis of indigent defense and challenges us to finally live up to our most cherished democratic principles."
—Jonathan Rapping, associate professor, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, and president and founder of Gideon’s Promise

"Houppert demonstrates that most public defenders are dedicated lawyers but face severe disadvantages due to overwhelming case loads, inadequate budgets for expert witnesses and the like, as well as the nature of the criminal justice system, which often emphasizes the desirability of a plea bargain instead of taking a case to a full trial by judge or jury…a well–researched and [well]–written investigation that shows the inadequacies in stark human terms rather than as an abstraction."
Kirkus Reviews

"Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed in Gideon v. Wainwright the right to free counsel to all defendants facing the possibility of imprisonment if they were unable to procure it themselves. Today, more than 80 percent of defendants are represented by public defenders. Here, Houppert (contributing writer, Washington Post Magazine; Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military—for Better or Worse) takes up the call of Anthony Lewis’s classic Gideon’s Trumpet and examines what has changed—and what has not—in the past five decades. What results is a stinging indictment of a system of indigent defense, a widespread failure that, the author claims, dooms the nation’s poor to being represented by insufficient counsel, unwise plea bargains, and wrongful convictions. Houppert examines public defense systems in Washington, Louisiana, and Georgia and follows illustrative cases: a teenager facing vehicular manslaughter charges, a prisoner who has served nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit, and a defendant facing the death penalty.
VERDICT Fluent and fluid, Houppert’s book has all the urgency this subject demands and is a page-turner. Alternately thrilling and gut-riling, this book will grab and hold lovers of great nonfiction. Highly recommended."
Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
A journalist explores the quality of indigent defense 50 years after Gideon v. Wainwright mandated adequate counsel for any person charged with a felony. Washington Post Magazine contributing writer Houppert (Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military--for Better or Worse, 2005, etc.) concedes that her book is an update on the nonfiction classic by Anthony Lewis, Gideon's Trumpet (1964). Houppert focuses on four defendants represented by appointed lawyers. One of those cases is that of Clarence Earl Gideon, who appealed for defense counsel despite his poverty after his 1961 arrest in Panama City, Fla. The other cases are more contemporary: teenager Sean Replogle in Spokane, Wash., after he was charged with vehicular homicide; Gregory Bright in New Orleans, where he was convicted of a 1975 murder he did not commit; and Rodney Young in Georgia, where he was sentenced to death despite his apparent mental retardation. Houppert demonstrates that most public defenders are dedicated lawyers but face severe disadvantages due to overwhelming case loads, inadequate budgets for expert witnesses and the like, as well as the nature of the criminal justice system, which often emphasizes the desirability of a plea bargain instead of taking a case to a full trial by judge or jury. While Lewis sounded optimistic about the development of high-quality defense representation for the indigent in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, Houppert is more pessimistic. Her research shows that defendants are regularly being denied their legal right to a strong lawyer with enough time and resources to function at the highest level. After all, indigent defendants do not have an organized lobbying group to compete for meager local, state and federal government resources, especially in recessionary eras. A well-researched and -written investigation that shows the inadequacies in stark human terms rather than as an abstraction.
From the Publisher

"Chasing Gideon is a wonderful book, its human stories gripping, its insight into how our law is made profound."
—Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon's Trumpet

"Houppert’s narratives of crimes, investigations, and court proceedings are careful and engrossing, and she has an excellent command of the relevant data, which she intersperses among interviews and case histories to great effect."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"Highly recommended. Fluent and fluid, Houppert’s book has all the urgency this subject demands and is a page-turner. Alternately thrilling and gut-riling, this book will grab and hold lovers of great nonfiction."
Library Journal

"A well-researched and -written investigation that shows the inadequacies in stark human terms rather than an abstraction."
Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed in Gideon v. Wainright the right to free counsel to all defendants facing the possibility of imprisonment if they were unable to procure it themselves. Today, more than 80 percent of defendants are represented by public defenders. Here, Houppert (contributing writer, Washington Post Magazine; Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military—for Better or Worse) takes up the call of Anthony Lewis's classic Gideon's Trumpet and examines what has changed—and what has not—in the past five decades. What results is a stinging indictment of a system of indigent defense, a widespread failure that, the author claims, dooms the nation's poor to being represented by insufficient counsel, unwise plea bargains, and wrongful convictions. Houppert examines public defense systems in Washington, Louisiana, and Georgia and follows illustrative cases: a teenager facing vehicular manslaughter charges, a prisoner who has served nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit, and a defendant facing the death penalty. VERDICT Fluent and fluid, Houppert's book has all the urgency this subject demands and is a page-turner. Alternately thrilling and gut-riling, this book will grab and hold lovers of great nonfiction. Highly recommended. [For more on this title, see Editor's Picks on page 35.—Ed.]—Molly McArdle, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595588692
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 548,830
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Houppert is a contributing writer at the Washington Post Magazine. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, Mother Jones, the Village Voice, Salon, Slate, and in various other magazines and anthologies. She is the author of two other books including Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military—for Better or Worse. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 3, 2013

    We'd like to believe that justice is blind, but unfortunately th

    We'd like to believe that justice is blind, but unfortunately that isn't quite the case for those too poor to afford good defense attorneys.  Ms. Houppert does a great job outlining the perfect storm created by budget cuts, indifferent public, and overworked public defenders and how it disproportionately affects the poor. Seamlessly weaving historical facts - tracing all the way back to Clarence Earl Gideon, whose case started the public defender system - with individual cases, she makes a good case for the need to reform the public defense system as it stands today.

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