Chasing Gideon

The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice

One of the Nieman Report’s top ten books of investigative journalism of 2013, a groundbreaking look inside the nation’s crisis of indigent defense

Chasing Gideon is a wonderful book, its human stories gripping, its insight into how our law is made profound.”
—Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet

First published to mark the fifty-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed the right to legal counsel for all criminal defendants, Chasing Gideon is “a hugely important book” (New York Law Journal) that gives us a visceral, unforgettable experience of our systemic failure to fulfill this basic constitutional right. Written in the tradition of Gideon’s Trumpet, by the late Anthony Lewis, this is “a book of nightmares,” as Leonard Pitts wrote in the Miami Herald, because it shows that the “‘justice system’ too often produces the opposite of what its name suggests, particularly for its most vulnerable constituents.”

Following its publication, Chasing Gideon, which ACLU director Anthony Romero said “illustrates the scope and seriousness of the indigent defense crisis,” became an integral part of a growing national conversation about how to reform indigent defense in America, coordinated with an HBO documentary and a website to promote the book and the movie ( The effort spread news about Chasing Gideon directly to public defenders’ offices nationwide and drove a national conversation about what Eric Holder in the Washington Post called the “shameful state of affairs” of indigent defense.


“Our country’s indigent defense crisis profoundly undermines the accuracy and fairness of our criminal justice system for defendants, victims, and the public alike. With clarity and power, Chasing Gideon demonstrates this crisis, the reasons behind it, and the ways to fix it. It is a must-read for anyone who cares about justice.”
—Virginia Sloan, executive director, The Constitution Project
Chasing Gideon is a wonderful book, its human stories gripping, its insight into how our law is made profound.  Fifty years after the Gideon case was decided by the Supreme Court, the struggle to give poor criminal defendants a fair chance in court is still being fought—by lawyers, judges, and an inspired writer, Karen Houppert.”
—Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon’s Trumpet
“The Gideon decision provides an essential mechanism for making the ideal of justice a reality, even for America’s most marginalized people. Author Karen Houppert compellingly examines the multitude of ways in which that mechanism remains under attack fifty years after it was established. Realizing the promise of Gideon often requires overcoming parsimony, political pressure, and the malignant indifference of government bodies and the public at large. Chasing Gideon illustrates the scope and seriousness of the indigent defense crisis nationally and makes the case that defending Gideon is essential and a true test of our nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.”
—Anthony D. Romero, executive director, ACLU
“Having spent much of my career building a movement of public defenders across the South working to make Gideon’s promise a reality, I am grateful to Karen Houppert for helping readers understand just how far we are from realizing the right to adequate counsel for all. Chasing Gideon shines a bright light on the crisis of indigent defense and challenges us to finally live up to our most cherished democratic principles.”
—Jonathan Rapping, president and founder of Gideon’s Promise (formerly Southern Public Defender Training Center), and featured in the HBO documentary Gideon's Army

News and Reviews

Los Angeles Review of Books

Los Angeles Review of Books reviews Chasing Gideon

The Atlantic

The Atlantic includes Chasing Gideon in a round-up of books on the Gideon case

Miami Herald

Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald reviews Chasing Gideon

Goodreads Reviews