It’s been 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anyone facing criminal charges has a right to an attorney even if they can’t afford one. The decision came out of a case called Gideon vs. Wainwright and was settled in 1963.
During that era, the criminal courts looked a lot different than they do today. Courtrooms are flooded with drug, theft and gun cases. And that’s put enormous pressure on public defenders in places such as Cook County--where, as we recently reported, they carry the highest average caseload in the country--to uphold the promise of a quality legal defense.
Public defenders Victor Erbring and Peter Benesh took us behind the scenes for a glimpse into how public defense is playing out.