Publication Spotlight: Mary Sue Backus

June 28, 2018
Mary Sue Backus

“The Right to Counsel in Criminal Cases: Still a National Crisis?,” an article co-authored by OU Law Professor Mary Sue Backus and William and Mary Law School Professor Paul Marcus, is slated for fall publication in Volume 86 of the George Washington Law Review.

The article revisits a piece Backus and Marcus wrote a decade ago about the crisis in indigent defense. It was part of the 2017 George Washington Law Review Symposium, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society: 50 Years Later.”

The full article will be published this fall. For now, here’s the article abstract:

In 1963, Gideon v. Wainwright dramatically changed the landscape of criminal justice with its mandate that poor criminal defendants are entitled to legal representation.  As scholars and practitioners have noted repeatedly over more than 50 years, states have generally failed to provide the equal access Gideon promised. This article revisits the questions raised by the authors over a decade ago when they asserted that a genuine national crisis exists regarding the right to counsel in criminal cases for poor people. Sadly, despite a few isolated instances where litigation has sparked some progress, the issues remain the same: persistent underfunding and crushing caseloads, with little support from the Supreme Court to remedy ineffective assistance claims, means that our patchwork system of public defense for the poor remains disturbingly dysfunctional.

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What led you to OU Law? I have wanted to go to law school since I was a teenager. I was active in speech contests and enjoyed making oral presentations. When I was in high school, I would go downtown and watch some of the trials at the courthouse, so, I got acquainted with the courtroom rather early. I obtained a Navy scholarship to go to OU. I was a regular Navy midshipman then I served three years in the far east before coming back to law school. I wanted to attend law school and came back to OU.



OU Law Conversations: Robert Barnes

What led you to OU Law? OU Law has been part of my family since the 1920s. My great uncle was Dr. Maurice Merrill, a 1922 graduate of OU Law who then earned a Doctorate in Law from Harvard University in 1925. Merrill taught at OU Law for 30 years, published numerous seminal works in oil and gas law, constitutional law, administrative law and the law of Notice. While still in his twenties, Merrill published the seminal treatise Implied Covenants in Oil and Gas Law, which has been a cornerstone of my cases. In law school, I lived with Uncle Maurice and marveled at his longhand scrawl which was literally final copy in its first draft form. In my mind, he will always be ten times the lawyer that I ever became.


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