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Indigent Criminal Defense Research Guide

Created in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, this research guide collects sources related to the history, development, and current state of indigent criminal defense in the United States.


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The Law Before Gideon

For most of U.S. history, the vast majority of state criminal defendants did not have the right to a court-appointed attorney. While the federal courts and several states did guarantee representation, several decisions from this era repeatedly confirmed that the states had no Constitutional obligation to pay for attorneys to represent indigent defendants.

  • The Scottsboro Case (Powell v. Alabama, 287 US 45 (1932))
    One of the most important cases, and certainly the most infamous, of the pre-Gideon era was Powell v. AlabamaPowell involved the wrongful convictions of nine young African-American men accused of raping two white women on a freight train. The defendants could not afford representation, and only inadequate representation was provided by the state. Eight of the defendants were sentenced to death; the ninth to life in prison. After the first stage of trials, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions, holding that counsel must be provided in capital cases.
    • Scholarly Articles about Scottsboro
      • N. Jeremi Duru, The Central Park Five, the Scottsboro Boys, and the Myth of the Bestial Black Man, 25 Cardozo L. Rev. 1315 (2003).
      • Matthew C. Heise, The Scottsboro Boys Trials and Judge Horton's Ex Parte Meeting: History's Verdict, 7 Dartmouth L.J. 208 (2009).
      • Douglas O. Linder, Without Fear or Favor: Judge James Edwin Horton and the Trial of the Scottsboro Boys, 68 UMKC L. Rev. 549 (1999).
      • William G. Ross, The Constitutional Significance of the Scottsboro Cases, 28 Cumb. L. Rev. 591 (1997).
  • Scholarship on pre-Gideon law and history
    • William O. Douglas, Right To Counsel, The, 45 Minn. L. Rev. 693 (1960).
    • Yale Kamisar, The Right to Counsel and the Fourteenth Amendment: A Dialogue on "The Most Pervasive Right" of an Accused, 30 The University of Chicago Law Review 1–77 (1962).
    • Stacey L. Reed, Look Back at Gideon v. Wainwright after Forty Years: An Examination of the Illusory Sixth Amendment Right to Assistance of Counsel, 52 Drake L. Rev. 47 (2003).