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The Little-Known History of Public Defense

Who "invented" the public defender? Most lawyers trace the roots of free indigent defense to 1963's seminal case, Gideon v. Wainwright, requiring criminal courts to provide free counsel to the indigent. But the original idea for public defenders actually came in 1893, from one of the nation's first prominent women lawyers, Clara Foltz.

This is one conclusion of a fascinating new paper, "Inventing the Public Defender," by Stanford Law school professor Barbara Allen Babcock, to be published in American Criminal Law Review in October. Babcock writes that Foltz, a lawyer and suffragist, "inaugurated the public defender movement with a speech at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893." Foltz, who by that year had practiced criminal law in the West for 15 years, did not envision public defenders as "a professional charity," Babcock writes.

"Instead the public defender would hold an honored position, even more important than the prosecutor because he would be protecting the innocent. Just as the prosecutors made no distinctions based on wealth, so Foltz's defender would represent all who sought his services: No one, she believed should have to 'buy justice in a land that boasts that justice is free.'"

The full article is available as a PDF download. Thanks to Capital Defense Weekly for the pointer.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 3, 2006 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


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