Lesson Plan: The Right to an Attorney and the Public Defender System

The Sixth Amendment and Gideon v. Wainwright

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) discussed the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment and the impact of the Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court Case.


The Sixth Amendment guaranteed the right to legal counsel in criminal cases. In Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that an attorney must be provided if the defendant cannot afford one. Based on this decision, this right to an attorney was provided to all people accused of crimes regardless of income. It also strengthened the need for public defenders. This lesson provides an overview of the Gideon v. Wainwright case and the current obstacles that the public defender system faces.


  • WARM-UP:

    Before starting class, have the students answer the following question. Review the students' answers.

    • What rights do you have if you are accused of a crime?

    Either review the following vocabulary words or have the students look up and define each of the following vocabulary words that will be referenced in the lesson.

    • Prosecution
    • Defendant
    • Indigent
    • Plea
    • Caseload
    • Legal Counsel

    As a class, view the following video explaining the Sixth Amendment and the Gideon. Wainwright case. Have the students answer the questions listed below.

    Video Clip: The Sixth Amendment and Gideon v. Wainwright (1:19)

    • What does right does the sixth amendment guarantee? Why is this important?
    • Explain the decision that was made in Gideon v. Wainwright.

    Either individually or as a class, have the students view the video clips below and use the handout (Google Doc) to take notes. Review the notes with the class after the students complete the assignment.

    Video Clip: The Impact of Gideon v. Wainwright (2:44)

    Video Clip: Miranda v. Arizona and the Right to Counsel (2:05)

    Video Clip: The Right to Counsel and the Modern Public Defender System (4:10)

    Video Clip: Technology and the Right to Counsel (2:47)

    Video Clip: Obstacles to the Right to Counsel (3:52)


    After viewing the videos, have the students break into small groups and discuss the following prompt.

    • Evaluate the effectiveness of the current system of providing public defenders. What ways (if at all) can it be improved? Support your arguments with evidence from the video clips.

    Have the students come up with a plan for how to address the challenges facing the public defender system. Encourage them to include consequences and drawbacks of this proposal.

Additional Resources


  • Arraignment
  • Attorney
  • Bill Of Rights
  • Caseload
  • Criminal Court
  • Defendant
  • Due Process
  • Fair Trial
  • Gideon V. Wainwright
  • Guilty Plea
  • Indigent
  • Investigator
  • Lawyer
  • Legal Representation
  • Miranda V. Arizona
  • Prosecutors
  • Public Defender
  • Right To Counsel
  • Sixth Amendment


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesCriminal Law & JusticeSupreme Court Cases


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