Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History
In the 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the United States Supreme Court held that an
indigent defendant in a state felony trial has a constitutional right to state-appointed
counsel. In reaching this decision, the Gideon Court wrote:
The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental
and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the
very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great
emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials
before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law.
This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face
his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.
Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 344 (1963)
Almost 50 years before the Gideon decision, Connecticut recognized
the critical role of counsel in a criminal trial. In 1917, Connecticut became the first
state in the Union to adopt the public defender system on a statewide basis:
The judges of the superior
court...or any judge thereof designated to hold any criminal term of said court...shall appoint
an attorney-at-law, of at least five year's practice, to act as attorney in the defense of
all persons charged with crime in said court when such person is without funds sufficient to
employ counsel for such defense.
Chapter 225 of the 1917 Connecticut Public Acts
More discussion about Connecticut's public defender system and its history
can be found in the Connecticut Bar Journal.
See 1 Conn. B. J. 330 (1927); 9 Conn. B. J. 307 (1935); 33 Conn. B. J. 297 (1959); 39 Conn. B. J. 221 (1965).
Doses of Connecticut Legal History