Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gideon's Army

Gideon's Army is an HBO documentary about the court-appointed defense lawyers who are the backbone of the American legal system. I was surprised to learn that court-appointed lawyers were not required in all cases until a Supreme Court decision in the 1960s (explaining the Gideon in the title). It's hard to imagine what life must have been like for a poor person accused of a crime before that landmark decision.

The movie follows three southern defenders and documents the difficulties of their lives, including the fact they they carry too many cases at a time, are grossly underfunded, and often their own clients undermine themselves. Nonetheless two of the three deal with specific cases on camera that show that they are brilliant lawyers. One of them has the names of clients tattooed to his back if he loses their case. There are people who are really committed to doing the right thing under the law.

Awards season is nearing, and it seems that this may be a top contender already. Highly recommended viewing.


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