[F]or many civilian defendants, Gideon v. Wainwright is a false promise. Appointed counsel are generally provided only to the indigent. But in Maryland, the indigence cut-off was well below the poverty line. The working poor often earned too much to qualify for a public defender but not enough to hire a lawyer. As a result, when waiting for my cases to be called in Maryland circuit and district courts, I would often see unrepresented defendants tried, convicted, and sentenced. That just doesn't happen in the military, where everyone has a right to a free counsel.Today's WaPo includes this op-ed by former Vice President Mondale making a similar point about Gideon's promise is unfulfilled due to unreasonably low income level cut-offs for appointed counsel. Vice President Mondale cites this report from the Brennan Center for Justice analyzing this problem.
In the military, however, only an accused who really, really wants to go pro se appears without a lawyer. As a direct result, the military justice system is fairer to the average accused than are many civilian justice systems. (Note, however, that I also believe that much like the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s, the military justice system doesn't handle the big ones well.)