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The Right to Appointed Counsel

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For those defendants who cannot hire counsel at all (in contrast to the previous post), today is the golden anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the decision that extended the federal constitutional right to appointed counsel to all felony cases, state as well as federal.  As important as that decision was, and I don't mean to denigrate it, from some of the effusive praise heaped upon it one might think that 50 years and a day ago nobody had the right to appointed counsel.  Before Gideon, many states provided counsel to all indigent defendants as a matter of state law, see, e.g., B. Witkin, Cal. Criminal Procedure ยง137 (1st ed. 1963), and the federal constitutional right was governed by the "fluid," and ultimately unworkable, standard of Betts v. BradyGideon was a large and important step, but the right to appointed counsel did not suddenly appear out of nowhere 50 years ago.

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