On May 13, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, with bipartisan support, on proposals to protect the right to counsel for indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors. While this unity in favor of expanding the right to counsel for indigent defendants is encouraging for criminal justice reform advocates, providing defendants with counsel won’t mean much if Congress and the Court continue to impede defendants’ ability to challenge their convictions and to urge judicial evolution on criminal justice matters.
Fifty-two years have passed since the Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteed counsel to indigent defendants facing state felony charges. The fiftieth anniversary, in 2013, prompted significant discussion about how Gideon’s promise has gone unfulfilled, as Congress and state governments have not adequately funded the offices tasked with carrying out the Court’s mandate. But also disconcerting, and left largely unmentioned by these critiques, is that access to justice has been greatly restricted in other ways since Gideon’s time. Specifically, the right to be heard on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus has been restricted—by the 1989 case Teague v. Lane and by the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act—to the point that, had those rules applied in 1963, Gideon may not have happened. Continue reading Gideon and Habeas Corpus: The Evolution of Justice in a Post-Teague, Post-AEDPA World