Serious problems persist in indigent legal defense

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WASHINGTON (AP) — It is not the happiest of birthdays for the landmark Supreme Court decision that, a half-century ago, guaranteed a lawyer for criminal defendants who are too poor to afford one.

A unanimous high court issued its decision in Gideon v. Wainwright on March 18, 1963. The justice said states have an obligation to provide defendants with "the guiding hand of counsel" to ensure a fair trial for the accused.

But in many states today, taxpayer-funded public defenders face crushing caseloads, the quality of legal representation varies from county to county and people stand before judges having seen a lawyer only briefly, if at all.

Attorney General Eric Holder says "there's no denying" that much more needs to be done.

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