Gideon's Army

Directed by Dawn Porter

Follows three young, committed Public Defenders who are dedicated to working for the people society would rather forget. Long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads are so common that even the most committed often give up.


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  • ★★★★½ review by Jamel Chhedi on Letterboxd

    This documentary is great, and really leaves a mark on you. It is about a group of young public defenders who make a living defending the poorest people in society even though they could be making much more money doing any other work. Amazing dedication!!!

    It also deals with some apparent injustices in the US legal system. Big recommendation!

  • ★★★★ review by Martin Teller on Letterboxd

    This documentary, made for HBO by Dawn Porter, follows three Georgia public defenders: Travis Williams, June Harwick and Brandy Alexander. Like the excellent Murder on a Sunday Morning, it gives you a real appreciation of the heroic efforts of the public defender. These people are overworked, handling from 130 to 180 cases at a time. They’re underpaid, and many of them have crippling student loans to pay off, leaving them a paltry sum every month to buy food. In one scene, Alexander scrounges in her car for change so she can buy gas to get home.

    The movie also points out the flaws in our justice system, just in case you weren’t already outraged about that. Most of the people arrested in this country can’t afford a lawyer, and they can’t afford bond either. So they sit in jail for months awaiting trial, while their families fall apart and their houses are taken from them. Most of them end up pleading guilty because it’s the easiest way to get through the system, regardless of innocence. Sometimes you plead guilty to a winnable case with the evidence on your side, just because another guy didn’t like the odds so he flips over to the prosecution’s side for a deal. Now your case isn’t so winnable anymore. Truth and justice often have little to do with the American Way.

    And sometimes the defenders have to work on the behalf of people who they know are guilty, people who have done abominable things. The movie explores the difficulty of reconciling that, how a public defender needs the ability to put the concept of “winning” on a sliding scale. It’s a job where morality is hard to define, and combined with the oppressive workload and non-competitive salary, many flee to private practice. One can hardly blame them. Instead, you respect them for putting their time in the trenches, trying to fight the good fight.

    It’s a sobering film with few triumphs, but when the triumphs come they hit home. These are interesting and admirable people. Hug a public defender today. You never know… it may be your ass they’re saving next. Rating: Very Good (85)

  • ★★★★ review by Megan Welch on Letterboxd

    I've grown up with a keen awareness of the justice system, and as an adult have even had the experience of having a best friend that studied to enter criminal law; going into Gideon's Army I was prepared to hear some kind of sob story (for lack of a better term) about shady lawyers who will do anything for their shady clients. That is not what Gideon's Army is.

    Gideon's Army follows three public defenders as they work through their course load. What all three have in common is that they are overburdened with cases, and lack the resources of the prosecution, or the lawyers at large firms, they have mountains in student debt their job doesn't allow them to quickly pay, and they believe that every case that comes across their desk deserves a fair and equal chance in the criminal justice system. Here lawyers tell stories of clients they know beyond a doubt are innocent but who they are afraid will do time anyway simply because they cannot afford the bonds, programs or even testing that the other side can afford. One public defender even tells of how he and his client couldn't afford to have some fingerprints admitted as evidence tested, so he had to petition the court to have them removed from evidence - thus making the prosecution think he was afraid of what they would reveal and successfully tricking the prosecutors into testing the fingerprints for him.

    These are lawyers that work hard, that work long hours, and have very little reward. They work in a system that is broken. They work for people that sometimes deserve to be exactly where the police that arrested them have placed them, and they also live with the knowledge that not doing their job successfully can send innocent people to prison.

    Gideon's Army is an excellent and compelling documentary. I would highly recommend this film to anyone.

  • ★★★★★ review by Astren on Letterboxd

    surprisingly touching and powerful. Beautiful beings who need to learn boundaries.

  • ★★★★ review by Chris Monks on Letterboxd

    Public Defenders are the real heroes of the justice system. They are the only ones who understand what justice really means and fight for it every day.

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