W&L Law Symposium Explores Landmark Gideon Case and Right to Counsel

Fifty years ago the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright established the right to counsel for criminal defendants. An upcoming symposium at Washington and Lee School of Law will explore the legacy of this case, its impact on the criminal justice system, and the future of the right to counsel.

The symposium is scheduled for Nov. 8-9 in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall on the grounds of Washington and Lee University. The event is free and open to the public.

W&L professor and symposium co-organizer J.D. King, who directs the school’s Criminal Justice Clinic, notes that this is not a celebration of the case, but rather a cold, hard assessment of what has gone right and what has gone wrong since Gideon became law.

Prof. J.D. King

“One of the failings of the criminal justice system is that while we do provide lawyers to people who can’t afford their own, there is no meaningful check on how good those lawyers are,” says King. “The reality of indigent defense is that in many cases defendants get a lawyer in physical presence only.”

Another problem, says King, is how Gideon and the right to counsel has been limited to apply only to so-called “serious” cases, that is, cases that could result in incarceration. However, there are more serious consequences that can result from a misdemeanor conviction now than there were when Gideon was decided.

 

“You can get deported, kicked out of your housing, lose student aid, not a get a job because of a background check, or wind up on the sex offender registry, all for misdemeanors for which you were not entitled to counsel,” says King.

The symposium is especially timely, adds King, as the fiscal crisis of the last several years has put increased strain on funding for public defender systems. Indeed, in many states, including Virginia, defendants eventually bear the burden of the cost of their attorney, which can force them to waive their right to counsel from the outset.

The symposium will bring together scholars and practitioners representing a range of views on the issues. Symposium attendees include Norman Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Robin Steinberg, founder of the visionary defense support service The Bronx Defenders, as well as leading academics from law schools around the country.

The symposium is sponsored by the W&L Law Review, the Frances Lewis Law Center, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Foundation for Criminal Justice. A complete list of panelists, symposium schedule and registration information is available online at law.wlu.edu/gideon.

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