'Gideon's Army' features unsung heroes of the justice system

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"Gideon's Army" sounds like a religious group distributing Bibles. But the HBO documentary premiering Monday, July 1, is a fascinating study of another group of true believers -- lawyers committed to representing those who can't afford attorneys.

Filmmaker Dawn Porter uses her experience as a lawyer and as a TV executive to tell a story that resonates. The title is based on the 1963 Supreme Court decision granting suspects legal representation.

Porter chronicles the sort of lawyers most people don't know about: public defenders in the Deep South.

"The most frequent question they get is, 'How can you represent those people?'" Porter tells Zap2it. "If you think about our popular culture, what you see are prosecutors as crusaders of justice. As a result, when you see defense lawyers, they are crooked; they are tricky."

Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick buck all odds to do their jobs. They have so little help and juggle an incredible caseload, sacrificing so much of their own lives.

It's easier on the system if suspects cop pleas, but public defenders truly fight for the rights of the downtrodden, even if cases seem impossible.

Alexander is not living large. While driving, she shows "all the money I have right now": $3 - in change - which is how much gas she can buy until her next paycheck.

Porter spent three and a half years documenting these stories, and it shows in the access she gained.

"I really want people to think about how important it is to have a fair trial and have a fair process and to not just allow people to be processed through a criminal justice system without regard to their rights," Porter says. "So often we hear people talk about patriotism and our constitutional rights, and I think we should be talking about the Sixth Amendment and the right to a fair trial as much as we talk about the Second Amendment and the right to have a gun."
Photo/Video credit: HBO