Gideon v. Wainwright and the modern criminal justice system

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Some Key Questions:

Who was Gideon?

What was his purpose for challenging his sentence?

What set the Gideon decision apart from previous cases?

To what extent did the court change its mind in the Gideon case?

What lasting effect has this decision had on the American judicial system?

What connections may be made to current unprecedented issues?

After analyzing the evolution of the movement and the “climax” of the Gideon decision, present the students with the article from 2005 (Appendix F) that presents the continuing need for court reform. Students should understand that although specific problems have been “dealt” with on paper, in practice, much more analysis is needed. Therefore, together, the class can engage with other comparisons today--perhaps the recent John Roberts testimony (and make additions to the timeline. Perhaps ask the question:

Where would our country be if we did not base so many of our court decisions on precedent or stare decisis?

Although court cases are supposed to be dramatic and life-changing, in practice, it takes more than words to change society--even its institutions. Gideon v. Wainwright was a decision that was over a century in the making. It was the major case that provided counsel for the indigent in all circumstances--not just special. Today, as well as in history, it is important to make long-term chronological connections.


Other than the presentations, the students’ primary document worksheets will explain their knowledge/importance of the cases.

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