gideon v wainright

gideon v wainright

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GIDEON v. WAINWRIGHT_______________________________________________
372 U.S. 335 (1975)

FACTS: Gideon, the petitioner, was charged in a Florida State Court for breaking and entering into a poolroom with the intent to commit a misdemeanor. This is a felony under Florida State Law. Due to lack of funds, he asked the court to appoint counsel for him and was denied. The court stated that under Florida state law, counsel could only be appointed to represent a defendant when that person is charged with a capital offense. Gideon unsuccessfully represented himself at trial, which resulted in a verdict of guilty. He was sentenced to five years in state prison. Gideon then filed in the Florida Supreme Court this habeas corpus petition (A judicial mandate ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned unlawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody. The petition is brought by a person who objects to his own or another’s detention or imprisonment). He alleged that the courts refusal to appoint counsel for him violated his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. In Federal Court, counsel must be appointed to an indigent defendant unless otherwise waived. The Florida Supreme Court denied relief. The United States Supreme Court (USSC) granted certiorari, which gives them the authority to review the case. The court relies on the decision in Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455. Betts was indicted for robbery in a Maryland State Court. He asked the court to appoint counsel for him and was denied. He was found guilty by the judge, sitting without a jury, and sentenced to eight years in prison. The court in Betts held that the Sixth Amendment was not a fundamental right and therefore was not applicable in State Courts under the Fourteenth Amendment.

ISSUE: Whether right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment is applicable in state courts under the Fourteenth Amendment depends on whether the right to counsel is considered to be a fundamental right and essential to a fair trial.

HOLDING: Here, the USSC overturned the decision in Betts v. Brady and held that appointment of counsel to defendant’s in all criminal prosecutions in federal court, may also be applied to defendant’s in state court under the Fourteenth Amendment.

REASONING: Many prior USSC decisions have held that assistance of counsel is one of the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment and is deemed necessary to ensure fundamental rights of life and liberty.

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The goal of the United States justice system has always been to achieve a fair system of justice. Without counsel, one cannot have a fair trial. The court states that in criminal court, lawyers are a necessity, not a luxury. It is a fundamental right for people in our country to be represented by an attorney regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

DECISION: The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the Supreme Court of Florida.
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