Gideon v. Wainwright is one of the landmark cases in the history of the United States Supreme Court. This was the case where the Supreme Court ruled that all state courts need to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants unable to get their own attorney under the Fourteenth Amendment. The identical rule imposed on courts under both the Fifth and Sixth Amendment was extended by the case itself.
A burglary took place sometime between midnight and eight in the morning on June 3, 1961. It took place in Panama City, Florida, at the Bay Harbor Pool Room. An unidentified person managed to break a door, destroy both a record player and a cigarette machine before stealing from the cash register. Clarence Earl Gideon was later accused by a witness of this crime after witnessing him leave the poolroom at five in the morning with a wine bottle and some money. The accused appeared alone in court due to the lack of personal funds to hire counsel. The Florida court failed to appoint Gideon counsel, forcing him to defend himself in court. He received a guilty verdict at the trial’s conclusion.
The mugshot of one Clarence Earl Gideon. Image Source: modvive.com
Feeling that he had received an unjust five year sentence at the state prison, Gideon appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and sued H.G. Cochran, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. However, Louie L. Wainwright later replaced him after his later retirement. In the appeal, Gideon argued that he was denied counsel, resulting in the violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Abe Fortas, a future Supreme Court Justice, was sent by The Supreme Court to represent Gideon while the State of Florida received representation by Bruce Jacob, future Dean of Stetson University College of Law.
In the end, the courts sided with Gideon, having decided that courts, as per the Sixth Amendment, needs to appoint an attorney to defendants who are unable to do so on their own. This was just one within a series of court decisions that confirmed defendants’ rights in criminal proceedings to have counsel appointed during trials and appeals. Subsequent cases, such as Miranda v. Arizona extended this rule even towards it application during police interrogations.
The recognition of the Supreme Court was that lawyers are necessities in criminal courts, not luxuries. The case had a very profound effect on the aspirations and operations of the American criminal justice system, which is something that is still keenly felt to this very day.