Since 1963, the US has required that all defendants in felony cases must be provided with a lawyer if they cannot afford one. Most can’t; according to the New York Times, 80% of defendants rely on public defenders. The trouble is, the system is underfunded, broken, and too frequently the odds stacked against them.
Gideon’s Army is an upcoming HBO documentary (which will be playing at Sundance) about the issue. It follows three regular public defenders in the Deep South, fighting against low pay, long hours, and crushing caseloads.