The American Justice System

Our Review of the Week looks at the history of the constitutional right to an attorney - established on this day in 1963

Public defenders and the American justice system

Wice, Paul B. Praeger, 2005
208p, 0275985768 $49.95

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, states have been required to provide free counsel for those who are charged with serious crimes and cannot afford a lawyer. Establishment of a public defender system has been the most common response. This solution creates an office of publicly paid defense lawyers, which is in many respects the counterpart of the prosecutor’s office. However, from the outset, public defenders have been stereotyped as cop-out artists, lazy, overburdened, or overly zealous. Wice, a leading scholar of the US criminal justice system, provides a marvelous antidote to these impressions. He offers a meticulous, fact-based study that paints a nuanced, insightful portrait of public defenders. Focusing on a single public defenders’ office in one city (Newark, NJ), he provides a careful account of its functioning in a municipality rife with crime and few resources. What he finds is a remarkable group of lawyers, dedicated to the cause of justice, who perform tolerably well under almost impossible conditions. However, the book is no panegyric. Wice describes a flawed institution and in his concluding chapter offers suggestions for reform.

Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
M. M. Feeley, University of California, Berkeley
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Political Science – U.S. Politics
Choice Issue: Feb 2006