Based on the life experiences of author and attorney Howard G. Franklin, Gideon’s Children gets its name from the landmark Supreme Court decision on March 18, 1963 that guaranteed every criminal defendant in a felony trial the right to a lawyer. Now over 50 years since that Gideon v. Wainwright decision, Franklin’s book puts into perspective the challenges confronted by he and a group of lawyers defending the poor, mostly African-American defendants in southern California in 1968.
Having reading this book, I can only imagine what it must have been like as a public defender in 1960s America. In excruciating detail, Franklin provides a vivid insight, which at times is very entertaining and graphic, of a young, idealistic attorney who went to work in a public defender’s office in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.
I find it particularly fascinating how Franklin does an exceptional job introducing the readers to historical events, landmark cases, and his personal experience throughout this remarkable read. It is very easy for society to brush away history or to take things for granted without knowing about how the events in history have got humanity and society to where we are now, and Franklin does an outstanding job in making sure that generations of readers will get to know what actually happened.
Although the book is fiction, the situations are very real. It brings into frame the challenges faced by attorneys in those early days, especially after Gideon’s decision, and how the U.S. legal system has been somewhat unfair to many, particularly minorities.
The part that should be read with even more great interest than any other part of the book is in Chapter Five; where the action is taking place in 1968, and there is a determined public defender about to try his first jury trial. His client is African-American, and from an area where the majority of the population of the judicial district population is mostly black. When the jury panel of 200, from which 12 will be picked, is led into the courtroom, all 200 are white.
In this book, readers will be reminded of the virtuous qualities of Atticus Finch when learning about the public defenders in our justice system. For anyone interested in the U.S. justice system, this would be a pivotal and a sensible choice as a read to pick up. It would be perfect for lawyers who really want to understand about parts of the U.S. legal system. President Obama recently said, “That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past -- how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world.”
Gideon’s Children is a book worthy of your time, whether for those cosy winter evenings at home or a perfect read in the quieter moments to ponder over life. It becomes quite clear in the book that the author’s generation has endured so much in times which we should not forget but rather learn from and make sure that such bad times don’t happen again.
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