Gideon's Army

Gideon's Army

  • Brandy Alexander
  • June Hardwick
  • Travis Williams
  • Jonathan Rapping
Production Company:

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Gideon's Army (2013)

Opened: 06/21/2013 Limited

Town Center 506/21/2013 - 06/27/20137 days
Quad Cinema/NYC06/28/2013 - 07/04/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

Everyone deserves the best defense. They fight to provide it.

GIDEON'S ARMY takes an inside look at the criminal justice system from the perspective of three young public defenders in the south.


GIDEON'S ARMY follows the personal stories of Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick, three young public defenders who are part of a small group of idealistic lawyers in the Deep South challenging the assumptions that drive a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point. Backed by mentor Jonathan "Rap" Rapping, a charismatic leader who heads the Southern Public Defender Training Center (now known as Gideon's Promise) they struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads so common that even the most committed often give up in their first year. Nearly 50 years since the landmark Supreme Court ruling Gideon vs. Wainwright that established the right to counsel, can these courageous lawyers revolutionize the way America thinks about indigent defense and make "justice for all" a reality?

An official selection in the prestigious U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, GIDEON'S ARMY was awarded the editing prize at the festival. The film will premiere on HBO summer 2013.

The Ford Foundation and HBO Documentary Films presents GIDEON'S ARMY; produced by Trilogy Films in association with Motto Pictures.

About the Film

In 1961 Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested for stealing soda and a few dollars from a pool hall. He could not afford an attorney and was convicted after representing himself at trial. Gideon appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, which, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the right to counsel in a criminal case is fundamental to the American system of justice.

More than 12 million people are arrested in the United States each year. Fifty years after the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case, most of them will be represented by one of the United States' 15,000 public defenders.

An official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, GIDEON'S ARMY follows a group of idealistic young public defenders in the Deep South, where lawyers face particularly difficult challenges due to high bonds, minimum mandatory sentencing and a culture that is traditionally "tough on crime." Brandy Alexander, Travis Williams and June Hardwick have dedicated themselves to defend those who otherwise would not get representation. These lawyers contend with a day-to-day life of low pay, long hours and staggering caseloads. Despite these obstacles, with the help of the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC), these young professionals are inspired to take on this unique challenge in the name of public service.

Directed by fellow attorney Dawn Porter, GIDEON'S ARMY follows two young lawyers as they prepare their cases for trial.

Travis Williams is a Gainesville, Ga. lawyer whose client, Branden Lee Mullin, has been accused of armed robbery and faces a minimum of ten years to a maximum of life in prison. Brandy Alexander has served in both Georgia and Florida as a public defender and is preparing to go to trial on behalf of her client, Demontes Regary Wright, a young man also charged with armed robbery.

The caseloads of these public defenders can be overwhelming: The average caseload for a public defender in Miami Dade County, Fla. at any one time is 500 felonies and 225 misdemeanors. It should come as no surprise that many public defender offices across the nation have an incredibly high turnover rate. The pace is exhausting, and the legal wrangling intense, but these young public defenders persevere. Knowing that the stakes are high -- and that their clients' lives will be deeply affected by what they do or fail to do -- they push themselves to their personal limits over and over again. This is why the defense of the indigent of our society is more than a job. It's a vocational calling.

But does their work have to be this difficult? Experts point to the perfect storm of our nation's approach to criminal justice as the explanation for the dire state of indigent defense. In many southern states, bonds for misdemeanor crimes are exorbitantly high, as high as $40,000 for misdemeanor crimes like shoplifting, which most defendants cannot afford This leads to the a high rate of pretrial detention for indigent clients, with many serving months or even years in prison without a trial. The third factor is the rate of plea bargaining simply to end pre-trial detention. Notes Brett Willis, a Senior Public Defender featured in the film, "The reality is 90% or 95% of the people who get charged with something plead guilty...because the system is designed to force them to plead guilty and it punishes their failure to comply."

In addition to lengthy prison sentences, clients found guilty can face severe civil sanctions, which can result in a litany of extreme punishments, including: losing eligibility for public benefits, such as federal student loans; losing the ability to live in public housing with your family; losing the right to vote; and in some regions, losing the right to hold a driver's license, which can be a severe obstacle to finding post-incarceration employment.

Along with the perilous circumstances facing the accused, their public defenders are typically up against a multitude of trying professional and personal circumstances, for which no amount of training could prepare them. Notes Williams: "I have huge student loan debt. After I pay my student loans and my rent, all I have left is probably $300 a month to pay extra bills like gas and the car, all that kind of stuff, groceries. But I don't see how you can do this work for any period of time and not begin to love it. If you don't, then it'll just drive you insane."

These committed young people are backed by mentor Jonathan Rapping, the dynamic leader of the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC), an Atlanta-based organization designed to fill a void in the training currently available to young public defenders. The center offers a comprehensive curriculum designed specifically for public defenders and geared toward the improvement of indigent defense representation and raising the standard of practice in jurisdictions nationwide. The group often provides emotional support in addition to practical instruction as the young public defenders talk about their work and empathize about their similar situations.

As Rapping states in one of their seminars, "This will be a battle that will be won, and your children will look back on this struggle to save people from this unjust, cruel, inhumane criminal justice system. And you all will be the foot soldiers, you will be the ones who brought that about."

The U.S. incarcerates more citizens annually than any other industrialized nation. At the beginning of 2008, 2.3 million Americans were behind bars, followed by China with 1.5 million. Porter explains, "Americans are fascinated with crime, and yet few know the truth about how the criminal justice system really works. GIDEON'S ARMY presents a rare true look at the criminal justice system from the vantage point of the accused. I wanted to be sure the inspiring, challenging nature of the work these public defenders do -- which involves a tremendous amount of personal sacrifice in service to our constitutional rights -- was given the attention it deserved."

The film is produced in association with the Ford Foundation.

GIDEON'S ARMY is directed and produced by Dawn Porter; producer, Julie Goldman; editor, Matthew Hamachek; co-producer Summer Damon; original music, Paul Brill. For HBO: senior producers, Nancy Abraham and Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

About the Subjects

Brandy Alexander

After graduating from The Florida State University with Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, Brandy attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Subsequently, Brandy practiced as a Public Defender between Florida and Georgia for six years.

June Hardwick

Attorney June Hardwick is a Mississippi native and graduate of Murrah High School, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Mississippi College School of Law. June is a member of the Magnolia Bar Association, Mississippi Bar Association, the Mississippi Public Defender Association, the Mississippi Association of Drug Court Professionals and New Horizon Church International. June's first introduction to indigent defense came in 2006 with her clerking with the Mississippi Youth Justice Project (MYJP) of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2009, June entered the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC) for 3 years of intense training. She graduated from SPDTC in January 2012.

Travis Williams

Travis A. Williams, 30, has worked as a public defender for five years. A native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., he is a 2005 Graduate of Florida A&M University and a 2008 graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law. Upon graduation from law school, Williams was hired as an assistant public defender at the Hall County, Ga. public defender's office, where he has spent his entire legal career thus far. Williams was named the 2011 Assistant Public Defender of the Year by the Georgia Association of Circuit Public Defenders, and in 2012 was honored as a "Rising Lawyer Under 40" by the Daily Report, a Georgia legal publication. Williams has tried 23 felony jury trials, losing seven. Of approximately 15 appeals, he has been granted five reversals by the Georgia Court of Appeals. Williams is a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club of Hall County. He lives in Gainesville, Ga.

Jonathan Rapping

Jonathan Rapping is an Associate Professor of Law and the Director of the Honors Program in Criminal Justice at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School. He is also the Founder and President of the Southern Public Defender Training Center, an organization that is building a community of public defenders across the South to drive indigent defense reform. He trains and supports public defenders all across the country.

Prior to joining the JMLS faculty Professor Rapping was the Chief of Training for the New Orleans Public Defenders and has been instrumental in the rebuilding of that office in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC)

The Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC) formed in 2007, is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the quality of representation for indigent defendants across the Southern United States. It's mission is to provide outstanding public defender training to young lawyers and to develop a community of SPDTC members, graduates, public defender offices, and other organizations, tied together by the mutual objective to advance standards of public defense, and thereby optimize the collective ability to advocate for systemic indigent defense reform. The SPDTC will be renamed Gideon's Promise in late January of 2013.

About the Filmmakers

Dawn Porter (Director/Producer)

Dawn Porter is the founder of Trilogy Films. She is an alumni of the Tribeca All Access program, where she won the 2011 juried Creative Promise Award for GIDEON'S ARMY. Realscreen named Dawn one of their 2012 Doc Hot Shots 15 emerging directors to watch. Other Trilogy projects include SPIES OF MISSISSIPPI for ARTE Germany and PBS, and a documentary about celebrity Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli for the Cooking Channel. Dawn also works in narrative features as executive producer on SERIOUS MOONLIGHT, written by Adrienne Shelley and starring Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton. SERIOUS MOONLIGHT debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival and was released theatrically by Magnolia Pictures and domestically on Lifetime Movie Network. She is also an executive producer of THE GREEN, an independent feature premiering on Showtime Networks and starring Cheyenne Jackson (30 ROCK) and Emmy®-winning actress Julia Ormond. Before becoming a filmmaker she was the director of News Standards and Practices at ABC News, and vice president of Standards and Practices at A&E Networks. Dawn is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Georgetown University Law Center. She was a practicing attorney at Baker & Hostetler and ABC Television Networks before beginning her television career.

Julie Goldman (Producer)

Julie Goldman founded Motto Pictures in 2009. She has produced a wide range of award-winning documentaries, working with a lineup of talented and acclaimed filmmakers. Her documentaries have been featured at the most prestigious film festivals around the world, including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and Berlin.

In January 2013, three films that Julie produced will premiere in U.S. Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival: GOD LOVES UGANDA, directed by Roger Ross Williams; MANHUNT, directed by Greg Barker; and GIDEON'S ARMY, directed by Dawn Porter.

Julie premiered two films at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival: Participant Media's A PLACE AT THE TABLE, directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, which will be released by Magnolia Pictures in March 2013, and AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, directed by Alison Klayman, which was recently shortlisted for a 2013 Academy Award®.

In 2011, Julie produced BUCK, directed by Cindy Meehl, which won the Sundance Film Festival US Documentary Audience Award. Sundance Selects/IFC Films released BUCK to critical and popular acclaim. It was one of the top-grossing documentaries of the year and was shortlisted for an Academy Award®.

Her 2011 slate of releases also included triple Emmy® nominee BETTER THIS WORLD, directed by Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, which premiered on POV and won the WGA Award and the Gotham Award for Best Documentary, the acclaimed HBO documentary KORAN BY HEART, directed by Greg Barker, and the Silverdocs Best U.S. Feature award winner OUR SCHOOL, directed by Mona Nicoara.

Julie was nominated by the Producers Guild of America for the Producer of the Year Award for SERGIO, directed by Greg Barker. SERGIO was shortlisted for the 2010 Academy Awards® for Documentary Feature and nominated for a Primetime Emmy® Award, and won the Sundance Film Festival Editing Award.

She was executive producer of Sundance Audience Award winner IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON, which was released by THINKFilm, and producer of SONS OF PERDITION, which launched the Oprah Winfrey Documentary Club on OWN. Julie was a consultant on the Academy Award®-winning THE COVE and Matt Tyrnauer's acclaimed VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR.


She has several films that are currently in production: 1971, directed by Johanna Hamilton; Steve James and Raj Patel's GENERATION FOOD; THE GREAT INVISIBLE, directed by Margaret Brown; REVOLUTION, directed by Greg Barker; and THE KILL TEAM, directed by Dan Krauss.

Matthew Hamachek (Editor)

Matthew Hamachek's work has aired on HBO, IFC, PBS, BBC and the Discovery Channel. He began his career working on the Oscar-nominated documentary STREET?FIGHT with Marshall Curry, and went on to collaborate with Curry again on RACING DREAMS, which won Best Documentary at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Their latest partnership, IF A TREE FALLS, won the Documentary Editing award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Matthew has worked on a number of other projects including the non-fiction series FILM?SCHOOL with Nanette Burstein (AMERICAN TEEN), THE ONE PERCENT with Jamie Johnson (BORN RICH), and GIDEON'S ARMY with Dawn Porter. He recently traveled to Morocco as part of the US State Department's American Documentary Showcase to screen RACING DREAMS at universities and cinemas around the country.