Gideon vs Wainwright

Gideon vs. Wainwright

In the Sixth Amendment, it is stated that, “In all criminal prosecutions,
the accused shall enjoy the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his
defense.” When first reading this phrase one might think that this right, that
which gives a person accused of a crime to have lawyers for his defense, is
common knowledge being that it is among the most basic rights given to the
public. However, its simple phrasing subjects the amendment to different
interpretations under different circumstances. Should the government provide
legal counsel if the accused lacks the funds to assemble a counsel for his
defense? Or, on the other hand, does this amendment set the responsibility of
gathering a defense for the accused even if he or she is too poor to?

The Supreme Court was faced with answering these questions in the case of
Gideon v. Wainwright. In the early sixties, Clarence Earl Gideon a slacker and
reprted gambler who had spent much of his life in and out of jail was arrested
in Florida. He was accused of breaking into a poolroom one night in an effort to
steal beer, Coke, and change from a vending machine. Gideon insisted that he was
innocent from the beginning. His trial began in court shortly after; and Gideon
told the Judge that he was not ready for the trial to begin because he had not
been able to afford for a defense attorney. He requested that the court appoint
one to represent him. The Judge told him he could not appoint an attorney to
represent him in the case because under Florida laws, the only time the Court
can appoint Counsel to represent a defendant is when that person is charged with
a capital offense. The trial began with Gideon controlling his defense, but his
attempts were ineffective as anyone could anticipate from a man with no legal
education or experience. The jury later convicted him of the charges and gave
Gideon the maximum five-year sentence.

In pursuit of an appeal, Gideon studied law books while serving out his
sentence in state prison. Gideon filed a petition that tried to repeal his
conviction and sentence on the basis that the court’s refusal to appoint
counsel denied him of rights identified in the Constitution. Gideon’s first
appeal to the State Supreme Court was denied, therefore Gideon appealed his case
to the United States Supreme Court where if the case was approved to be
considered the government would provide him a lawyer. After the Supreme Court
selected the case to be considered, Gideon presented his case before them with
the basis being that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated. This
argument was strongly supported by the Fourteenth Amendment that states “No
State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or
immunities of citizens of the United States.” These arguments were considered
before the court in an attempt to earn an appeal, a new fair trial for Gideon.
The Supreme Court’s decision was made and they concluded to reverse Gideon’s
conviction because he was denied due process. This decision meant that Gideon
received a new trial with representation by a qualified lawyer.

In Gideon’s retrial, his court appointed attorney attempted to point the
blame of the crime to the witness from the crime scene that named Gideon as
guilty from day one. Gideon’s lawyer gave reasonable doubt to the reliability
of the chief witness and therefore gave reasonable doubt to the previous charge
of guilty. Gideon should have been acquitted of all charges because his lawyer
gave him fair representation and was able to prove that it could have been
someone else who committed the crime and the evidence presented against Gideon
in his first trial wasn’t as incriminating anymore.

Category: Law