Gideon's Promise Presentation

  • Special Programs

Please invite your summer law clerks to join Jon Rapping, former training director of PDS and founder and CEO of Gideon's Promise as he discusses his work in the South and his training and mentoring program for public defenders.

RSVP to Jen Thomas by e-mail at

In the 1963 landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously concluded that states have a constitutional obligation under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to provide counsel to indigent defendants in felony cases, stating that the ruling is "the start of a right to counsel revolution in the United States." More than 40 years later, we are far from realizing the promise of the Supreme Court ruling.

While indigent defense is in a crisis nationally, nowhere is the problem more acute than in the southeastern states. Throughout the South, lawyers representing poor clients routinely carry crushing caseloads, advise clients to enter guilty pleas without any investigation, and try cases with little or no preparation. Many lawyers never see their clients outside of the courtroom, and in some jurisdictions, an arrestee unable to post bond can sit in jail for months effectively unrepresented by counsel. According to the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, 35 million Americans live below the poverty level and another 10 million have incomes that are less than 25% higher than poverty levels. Roughly 1 in 5 U.S. citizens is eligible for federally funded legal services. The need for legal services among the poor is significant, with 40% of low and moderate income households experiencing a legal problem each year. When those legal problems are criminal in nature, a lawyer may be appointed, but the vast majority of people are not getting constitutionally effective representation.

Gideon's Promise, formerly the Southern Public Defender Training Center, was formed to inspire, mobilize and train legal professionals to provide the highest quality defense representation to people unable to afford an attorney. Over 250 Gideon's Promise lawyers, alumni, trainers, and partners are changing the culture of indigent defense, in the South and eventually across the country, ultimately ensuring that every person has access to justice. Our goal is to offer "best-in-class" public defender training and support programs, while also building a strong community of public defenders, who are tied together by the common goal to reform public defense. By building this cohesive community, Gideon's Promise strives to facilitate our collective ability to advocate for indigent defense reform at all levels of the court system.

"Imagine a world where justice does not depend on race, class or income. Nothing is more important to achieving this ideal than the quality of the lawyer provided our least fortunate citizens when their life or liberty is at stake. I envision a world in which a new generation of committed attorneys are provided the training and resources they need to make this promise of equal justice for all a reality. " - Jonathan Rapping, CEO/Founder