Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright established the constitutional right of criminal defendants to legal representation, even if they can’t afford it. The Court ruled there shouldn’t be one kind of justice for the rich and another for the poor, but the scales of the American legal system still tilt heavily in favor of the white and wealthy. On this week’s Moyers & Company, attorney and legal scholar Bryan Stevenson exposes the system’s failures, and ongoing struggles at the crossroads of race, class and justice.
Stevenson’s Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative has reversed the death sentences of more than 75 inmates. But right now, there are more than 3,100 inmates on death row, and more than 60% are members of racial or ethnic minorities. Over time, Supreme Court Justices have fine-tuned the circumstances under which the death penalty may still apply, but no set of laws or jurisprudence can undo wrongful executions -- or, it seems, completely prevent them. According to journalists Martin Clancy and Tim O’Brien, authors of Murder at the Supreme Court, in recent years at least 18 inmates were released from death row because DNA evidence proved their innocence. These cases are among more than 140 death penalty exonerations over the last three decades.
Moyers & compamy: And Justice for Some, Friday at 9 p.m. on PBS 6.