Gideon vs. Wainwright

Gideon vs. Wainwright

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Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in 1961 and charged with breaking and entering a pool hall with intent to commit theft, by taking money out of vending machines. What he did at the time was considered a felony. When it came time to have the trial he did not have enough money for a lawyer and asked that one be appointed to defend him. The judge denied the request saying that under Florida state law counsel can be appointed only in a capital offense. Since Gideon didn’t have a lawyer and was not educated to defend himself he lost easily to the prosecution. Gideon was then sentenced to five years in prison. He then filed out a writ of certiorari, which is a petition of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States asking for them to review his case. The Court granted Gideon's request and appointed Abe Fortas to represent him as his lawyer.
This was a very controversial issue, because the court faced the decision of whether to go with the laws that the forefathers had come up with or grant people right to counsel so that the truth can be brought out. The issue was whether the state of Florida violated Gideon's Sixth Amendment right to counsel, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, because they did not provide him with the assistance of counsel for his criminal defense.
The Court ruled unanimously in Gideon's favor and held that the Fourteenth Amendment included state as well as federal defendants. The Court said that all states must provide an attorney in all felony and capital cases for people who cannot afford one. Through the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause, the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to counsel applies to the states. Gideon won his case and took the groundbreaking step in public defense lawyers being there for people that cannot afford a lawyer of their own.

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This is shown in a quote by Robert Kennedy, "If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in his prison cell...to write a letter to the Supreme Court...the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter, the Court did look into his case... and the whole course of American legal history has been changed."--Robert F. Kennedy. After the supreme courts finding Gideon then retired to Florida.
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