Discussion Guide

As you read Chasing Gideon, consider the following questions.

Chapter 1: Due Process Theater: A Case of Vehicular Homicide

  1.  Why wasn’t Carol Dee Huneke able to adequately represent Sean Replogle? What are the factors that limit a public defender’s capacity? Are these barriers that can be overcome with more dedication on the part of the public defender, or is systemic change required?
  2. What is the role of plea bargains in the criminal justice system, especially in cases like Sean’s? When is a plea bargain appropriate, and when does it become a shortcut?
  3. Is it too extreme for Carol Dee Huneke to call for a “Public Defenders Revolution?”

 Chapter 2: “I Have No Counsel”: The Man Behind Gideon v. Wainwright

  1. Is the right to a free attorney fundamental to the justice system? Why or why not? If so, how did we go so long without guaranteeing this right in the US?
  2. Was Clarence Earl Gideon a rugged individualist, as he has been depicted in film, TV, and in books?
  3. Do you think that Joseph Peel, Clarence Gideon’s cellmate, engineered Gideon’s case and helped him write his historic plea to the Supreme Court, and how does this illustrate the argument that all prisoners need legal defense? 

Chapter 3: A Perfect Storm: Looking for Justice in New Orleans

  1. How did the public defense system get so bad in New Orleans, even before the storm? What circumstances are unique to New Orleans, both legal and environmental?
  2. How should a public defense or criminal system fund and support the kind of in-depth investigation that resulted in Greg Bright’s exoneration? Should that be the province of idealistic defenders and individuals like the Innocence Project, or are there ways to institutionalize that practice?
  3. What are the responsibilities of the state or of society at large to people like Greg Bright who are exonerated after serving long prison terms?

Chapter 4: Death in Georgia

  1. How should defense in death penalty cases be different from defense in other criminal cases? Or should it?
  2. Do you think, from the testimony of his teachers and Houppert’s story, that Rodney Young was mentally impaired and thus ineligible for the death penalty? What is the line, and what do you think it should be?
  3. What is the net effect of disqualifying people who are opposed to the death penalty on principle from serving on capital juries? Given that certain populations—such as African Americans—are opposed to the death penalty at greater rates than the general population, from serving on juries, is this a racist practice, or just an unintended consequence of a fair system?


  1. Reverend Michael Eric Dyson says that defenders are demonized for “working for thugs and criminals.” Is this true? How can public perception of defenders be changed?
  2. How has this book changed your understanding of public defense?
  3. Did reading this book motivate you to change the way public defense works in your state? What are some things you could to do help bring about this change?