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Fulfilling the Unfulfilled Promise of Gideon: Litigation as a Viable Strategic Tool

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Nearly fifty years after the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, representation of indigent criminal defendants in many instances has remained inadequate. Commentators have proffered various reasons for the deficiencies, including inadequate funding, excessive caseloads, inconsistent standards, and judges involved in the selection of indigent defense counsel. Numerous legal scholars, committees, and commissions have suggested reforms. This Essay focuses on the use of litigation to secure the promise of Gideon. It discusses the effect various lawsuits have had on systemic reform and provides a recent case study from Michigan of a lawsuit that served as a catalyst for legislative change. Finally, this Essay suggests future approaches to achieve systemic reform.

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