Note / Opinion / Editorial
The attached opinion / editorial, personally prepared and written by Central District of Illinois U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis and Federal Public Defender Jonathan E. Hawley, commemorates the 50th anniversary on March 18, 2013, of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainright, that secured the right to counsel for indigent criminal defendants.
Please consider using the remarks as a ‘Letter to the Editor,’ as a separate ‘Op-Ed’ item, or for follow up in any manner your entity determines is appropriate.
For further discussion of this issue, U.S. Attorney Lewis is available by contacting 217-492-4450; Federal Public Defender Jonathan E. Hawley may be reached at 309-671-7891.
Sharon J. Paul
Public Information Officer
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of Illinois
OPINION / EDITORIAL
In March 1963, fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright, holding that every defendant who faces a serious criminal charge has the right to an attorney, and that this attorney will be at government expense if the defendant cannot afford one. This was a landmark decision for all of us who believe in fair trials, and we, as the United States Attorney and the Federal Public Defender for the Central District of Illinois, wish to acknowledge and celebrate this historic and memorable decision.
Before Gideon, people went to trial all too often without an attorney to stand with them. It wasn't fair. It wasn't just. It did not live up to our purposes and ideals.
Our Constitution's Preamble speaks truly, saying that we should establish justice. In the Gideon decision, the Supreme Court spoke truly, saying that "lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries." In an earlier case, the Supreme Court spoke truly, saying that the prosecutor's goal “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done." We believe that our justice system has to do its best to get it right the first time, because there is so much at stake for the individual and the community.
How are we doing, fifty years after Gideon? Our system is certainly much better, but we should not declare that the work is done. All too often, attorneys for indigent defendants do not have the funds and resources to handle the large caseloads. We need to fulfill our promise, and we can do so. We can establish model standards and expectations for public defense, we can look at our systems and see if there is fully effective representation, and we can strengthen our justice system whenever it does not fully serve its purpose: fair trials and just results.
Let us all celebrate this Supreme Court decision. And let us ensure that we meet its challenge, its promise and its purpose: equal justice under law.
James A. Lewis
U.S. Attorney, Central District of Illinois
Jonathan E. Hawley
Federal Public Defender, Central District of Illinois