Keeping Gideon’s Promise: A Comparison of the American and Israeli Public Defender Experiences


As we enter the new millennium, indigent defendants throughout the nation and the world are asking an important question: Who will come forward to represent me if I face the risk of losing liberty and life at the hands of the government? If the person is indigent in the United States, the Constitution would seem to answer that question unequivocally. The Sixth Amendment states that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall … have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” In practice, however, the right is only guaranteed to certain classes of defendants, and the quality of defense is reduced by legal factors such as low standards for representation and by structural factors such as limited funding. In Israel, the right to counsel is yet to be recognized as a fundamental constitutional right, but assistance of counsel is guaranteed to many individuals by statute. The Israeli public defender system faces many of the same challenges as the United States system, but has adopted a different set of strategies to ensure quality representation. In this article we endeavor to analyze the significance of the right to counsel, particularly as it applies to the creation and expansion of public defender systems in the United States, where public defender systems have been in place for decades, and in Israel, where a public defender system was established just seven years ago. We will examine the history of the public defender systems in both countries. The heart of the analysis will focus on a comparison of the perplexing problems that the American and Israeli public defender systems have encountered and the strengths and weaknesses of each system.

Suggested Reading