Public defense. For 50 years it's been touted as a right for defendants who can't afford an attorney.
Ever since the case Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Florida man who was sentenced to prison without any access to an attorney. He was later found not guilty in a new trial with an attorney working on his behalf.
That was a good result for Gideon, but public defense as a whole has not fared as well in our nation.
"Gideon's Army" follows three Southern public defenders as they give their all for their clients. The trio struggle under crippling caseloads that entail long hours and salaries that barely enable them to pay their student loan debt. Filmmaker Dawn Porter does an amazing job of capturing the emotional toll the job takes on them, and the unflinching spirits that motivate them to keep going.
Public defender offices remain chronically underfunded and understaffed even as their counterparts in prosecutors' offices seem to have unlimited resources.
That's the situation here in Montana. An attempt to get more funding for Montana's Office of the Public Defender this legislative session was unsuccessful. Legislators refused to hire any additional attorneys, and would only dedicate a small additional amount of money for contract attorneys.
Helena was given a sneak preview of the documentary in April, when it was shown at the Myrna Loy Theater. The film had its national debut on HBO last night.
But don't worry. You haven't missed out. The film will be rebroadcast frequently over the summer on HBO, is available to HBO subscribers online and will be available on HBO On Demand through September 1. Get more details and make sure you see it.
"Gideon's Army" paints a vivid picture of the dedication and creativity it takes public defenders to represent their clients in a court system stacked against them.