Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History

The Public Defender System - A Connecticut First

Scales of Justice 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