Defenders of the Poor in Powerful Documentary
The title of Dawn Porter’s stirring documentary, Gideon’s Army (HBO, 9pm), refers to the legion of idealistic public defenders fighting for equal justice in a land where not everybody can afford a high-priced defense attorney. That army is named after Clarence Earl Gideon, who was arrested in 1961 for stealing soda and a few dollars from a pool hall in Panama City, Fla.
Convicted of theft after representing himself at trial, Gideon appealed the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in a landmark 1963 decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, that the right to counsel in criminal court is fundamental to the American system of justice. The decision ushered in a nationwide system of public defenders representing clients who are too poor to pay for their legal defense.