‘Gideon’s Army’: Documenting the Justice System

Public defenders uphold the constitutional right of an accused citizen to have defense under the presumption of the court that they are innocent until proven guilty. They exist as the line between the for profit prison system and the constitution itself. The state’s defender (otherwise known as a prosecutor) seeks to prove guilt, which is a vital part of a game known as justice.

Justice is, very unfortunately in the case of the legal system, opposed by a system run by dollars. If not for the money, it might be easier to jail criminals and free innocent people, but the concept of bail alone clarifies that this is all about money over flesh and blood. Paying for freedom puts currency in the spotlight, no?

And so it is that justice is defended by the people who hold this profession of public defense. They work long hours for meager pay in sometimes dangerous conditions in the name of innocence, and not the innocence of their defendants, necessarily -they know this is not always possible- but the concept of innocence itself. The right of citizens to a fair trial is theirs to uphold, and so their function is absolutely vital to justice in this country.

What ‘Gideon’s Army’ does is show viewers what the devotion to innocence looks like under extremely difficult, heartbreaking circumstances. “This is all I can do for you” is a common phrase. If a boy’s mom can’t come up with the cash to free him, he can’t leave jail- he might never leave, anyway. If they had the cash, they might not need a public defender- can we just consider for a moment how impossible that kind of chance is when presented? No money gets you free defense, but it also gets you jail, because the only way out is to suddenly have a rather large sum of money in hand to give not to your landlord or school or investment, but to be free. On that occasion, which is experienced by thousands of people across the country each day, this all seems like a useless set of rights, under the worst circumstances. A trick for someone else’s purposes. And yet the defenders defend 120 to 180 people at a time, hoping to use their knowledge of the system to give as many unfortunate defendants back their lives as possible. Their trials and issues amount to making the difference of one life at a time, and what good the free person does with the time they’ve repurchased.

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