Gideon v. Wainwright (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: The U.S. Supreme Court guarantees the right to legal counsel.
Summary of Event
In the 1960’s, the Supreme Court effected a virtual revolution in American constitutional rules dealing with criminal procedure. These were part of a series of extensive changes in all phases of constitutional law: First Amendment freedoms, redistricting and reapportionment of electoral districts, and civil rights. Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court had for some years stressed the protections available to criminal defendants, but in Mapp v. Ohio (1962) it issued a major pronouncement on the subject, declaring that evidence seized in violation of the search warrant and reasonable cause provisions of the Fourth Amendment would no longer be admissible in state courts; such evidence had been inadmissible in federal courts since the 1914 ruling in Weeks v. United States.
In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court ruled that states are constitutionally required to provide counsel for indigent defendants in trials before state judges, and in a number of subsequent decisions handed down from 1963 through 1966, the Court held that counsel had to be provided at various critical stages of the investigation process. The capstone of the developments in this field was Miranda v. Arizona (1966), in which the Court ruled that persons apprehended by the police must be advised of their...
(The entire section is 1450 words.)
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Gideon v. Wainwright (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799, is a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established an indigent criminal defendant's right, under the SIXTH AMENDMENT of the U.S. Constitution, to counsel in state criminal trials.
In 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in a Florida state court with breaking into and entering a poolroom with intent to commit a misdemeanor, a combination of offenses that constituted a felony under Florida law. He could not afford a lawyer, and he requested to have one appointed by the court. Nearly twenty years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had held in Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, 62 S. Ct. 1252, 86 L. Ed. 1595 (1942), that an ordinary person could do an adequate job of defending himself or herself. A court-appointed lawyer was required only if the defendant had mental or physical deficiencies, the case was unusually complicated, or the case involved "special circumstances." None of these exceptions applied to Gideon, the Florida trial court ruled, and thus his request for counsel was denied.
Gideon conducted his own defense and was found guilty of the charges. He then filed a handwritten petition with the Supreme Court of Florida, seeking to overturn his conviction on the ground that the trial court's refusal to appoint an attorney for him denied him...
(The entire section is 754 words.)
Gideon v. Wainwright (Great American Court Cases)
Legal Citation: 372 U.S. 335 (1963)
Clarence Earl Gideon
Louie L. Wainwright, Director, Division of Corrections
That the Sixth Amendment requires states to provide legal counsel for impoverished criminal defendants charged with serious offenses.
Chief Lawyer for Appellant
Chief Lawyer for Appellee
Bruce R. Jacob
Justices for the Court
Hugo Lafayette Black (writing for the Court), William J. Brennan, Jr., Tom C. Clark, William O. Douglas, Arthur Goldberg, John Marshall Harlan II, Potter Stewart, Earl Warren, Byron R. White
Date of Decision
18 March 1963
Declaring that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Sixth Amendment right to counsel binding on the states, the Supreme Court unanimously voted to order that Gideon be assigned a court-appointed lawyer and retried.
Gideon v. Wainwright made an enormous contribution to the so-called...
(The entire section is 969 words.)
Gideon v. Wainwright (Supreme Court Drama)
Petitioner: Clarence Earl Gideon
Respondent: Louie L. Wainwright
Petitioner's Claim: The Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel for defendants unable to afford an attorney should apply equally to the states.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Abe Fortas
Chief Lawyer for Respondents: Bruce R. Jacob
Justices for the Court: Hugo Lafayette Black, William J. Brennan, Jr., Tom C. Clark, William O. Douglas, Arthur Goldberg, John Marshall Harlan II, Earl Warren, Byron R. White.
Justices Dissenting: None
Date of Decision: March 18, 1963
Decision: The Sixth Amendment applies to the states and they are required to provide defendants charged with serious crimes and unable to afford an attorney with legal counsel.
Significance: In taking his case to the United States Supreme Court, Clarence Gideon brought about an historic change in the way American criminal trials are conducted. Before this case, state courts only appointed attorneys for capital cases (cases with the possibility of the death penalty). Now all defendants charged with felony crimes (cases with the possibility of one year or more in prison) that cannot afford to pay for an attorney are entitled to court-appointed legal representation.
At eight o'clock on the morning of June 3, 1961, a police officer in Panama City, Florida, noticed that the door of the Bay Harbor Poolroom was open. Stepping inside, he saw that someone had burglarized the pool hall, breaking into a cigarette machine and jukebox. The evidence gathered by police led to the arrest of Clarence Gideon, a fifty-one-year-old drifter who sometimes worked at the poolroom. Gideon declared that he was innocent. Nonetheless, two months later he faced trial in the Panama City courthouse. No one present had any idea that they were about to witness history in the making.
Clarence Earl Gideon, in court without money and without a lawyer, asked the judge to appoint an attorney. Judge Robert L. McCrary, Jr. denied his request as under Florida law, he could only appoint counsel in a capital case. Gideon argued that the United States Supreme Court said he had a right to counsel.
The First Trial
The judge was correct. At that time, Florida law did not allow for a court-appointed defense lawyer. A 1942 Supreme Court decision, Betts v. Brady, had extended this right only to those state court defendants facing a charge punishable with the death sentence. Many other states voluntarily provided all defendants accused of a felony with a lawyer. Florida did not. So at the start of the trial on August 4, 1961, Clarence Gideon was alone in defending himself. Gideon, a man of limited education, performed as well as he could, but he was not the equal of the Assistant State Attorney William E. Harris.
Prosecution witness Henry Cook claimed to have seen Gideon inside the poolroom at 5:30 on the morning of the robbery. He had watched Gideon for a few minutes through a window. When Gideon came out of the pool hall he had a pint of wine in his hand, he made a telephone call from a nearby booth. Soon afterward a cab arrived and Gideon left.
During cross-examination Gideon questioned Cook's reasons for being outside the bar at 5:30 in the morning. Cook replied that he had "just come from a dance, had been out all night." An attorney might have checked out this story further, but Gideon let it pass. Eight other witnesses testified on Gideons behalf. None proved helpful, and Gideon was found guilty. The whole trial had lasted less than a day. At the sentencing hearing three weeks later Judge McCrary sentenced Gideon to the maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Gideon Fights Back
Gideon was outraged at the verdict. He applied to the Florida Supreme Court for an order freeing him because he had been illegally imprisoned (a writ of habeas corpus). When this application was denied, Gideon handwrote a five page appeal of this denial to the United States Supreme Court.
Each year the United States Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions. Most are rejected without any hearing. Against the odds, the Supreme Court decided to hear Gideon's petition. The case was heard as Gideon v. Wainwright (the director of Florida's Division of Corrections). Bruce R. Jacob, Assistant Attorney General of Florida argued the case for the State of Florida. Abe Fortas, Gideon's appointed counsel for the appeal (and later a Supreme Court justice himself) argued Gideon's suit. The court heard the oral argument on January 14, 1963.
On March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court unanimously overruled the prior case law Betts v. Brady, saying that all felony defendants are entitled to legal representation and sent Gideon's case back to the Florida trial court for a second trial. Justice Hugo L. Black wrote the opinion that set aside Gideon's conviction:
Reason and reflection requires us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled [hauled] into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.
The Second Trial
On August 5, 1963, Clarence Gideon again appeared before Judge Robert L. McCrary in the Panama City courthouse, but at his new trial he had an experienced trial lawyer, W. Fred Turner, to defend him. Due to all of the publicity surrounding his Supreme Court victory there was an even stronger prosecution team against him at the second trial. State Attorney J. Frank Adams and J. Paul Griffith joined William Harris in an effort to convict Gideon a second time. Cook was again the main prosecution witness, Henry Cook, fell apart under Turner's expert questioning. Particularly damaging was Cook's admission that he had withheld details of his criminal record at the first trial. The jury found Gideon not guilty of all charges.
Clarence Earl Gideon died a free man in 1973 at age sixty-one.
Suggestions for further reading
Lewis, Anthony. Gideons Trumpet. New York: Random House, 1964.
Schwartz, Bernard. History of the Law in America. New York: American Heritage, 1974.
West Publishing Company Staff. The Guide to American Law. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 1985.