Gideon V. Wainwright Essay, Research Paper
Gideon v. Wainwright
What most people don’t know is that in the past those arrested for a crime did not really have “the right to an attorney” unless they had money. This became a right because Clarence Gideon, a prison inmate who did not have the money for a lawyer, took a pencil in his hand and wrote his own petition to the United States Supreme Court. Clarence Gideon, without a lawyer, took his case to the highest court in the country and won important rights for all of us.
In 1961, Clarence Gideon was arrested in Florida on a charge of breaking and entering into a pool hall. Gideon was a likely suspect for the police to arrest: he was a 51-year old drifter who had been in and out of jail many times since he ran away from home to be a “hobo” at age 16. Although he barely finished the eighth-grade, when Gideon was arrested he knew two things: one of which was that he had not committed this crime and the second is he would not have a chance to convince a jury that he was not guilty if he did not have a lawyer. Because Gideon could not afford a lawyer, he asked a judge to appoint a lawyer to represent him. The judge refused and Gideon was convicted.
He was sentenced to five years in jail, which gave him a lot of time on his hands. He put that time to good use. First, he filed a petition before the Florida Supreme Court. The petition was denied. So then he decided to file a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that putting him on trial without a lawyer was unfair, because it denied him due process of law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court case is titled Gideon v. Wainwright. Gideon filed the petition and was the petitioner. Louie L. Wainwright was the person against whom the petition was filed, which would make him the respondent. Gideon filed the petition against Wainwright because he was the superintendent of Florida prisons, and he believed he had been denied his constitutional rights and was held in prison illegally.
Gideon’s biggest problem was that 20 years earlier the United States Supreme Court had already discarded an argument that every defendant should have the right to an attorney. So Gideon’s short, awkward, hand-written appeal was asking the U.S. Supreme Court to change its mind. Fortunately for Gideon, the Court was ready to consider doing just that.
In 1963, when Gideon filed his appeal, about half of all the people convicted in state courts could not afford to hire a lawyer. Consequently, the Supreme Court Justices had recently had to reverse a lot of convictions because serious legal errors were made when defendants had been forced to defend themselves in court without the help of lawyers. So the Supreme Court Justices decided to hear Gideon’s petition and they appointed a famous Washington attorney, Abe Fortas, to represent Gideon. Fortas became a member of the Supreme Court just a few years later.
In the decision in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the Supreme Court unanimously held that: “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person 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.” In their decision, the Supreme Court Justices noted that anyone who could afford a criminal defense lawyer always hired one, and that the government always hired lawyers to bring such prosecution. The Justices determined that “lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.”
Gideon got a new trial and a court appointed lawyer for which he did not have to pay. Clarence Gideon had been right. He did need a lawyer’s help to be found not guilty. He was acquitted by a jury and set free from jail. Clarence Gideon’s handwritten petition to the Supreme Court gave all of us the right to have an attorney appointed for us by the court if we can’t afford a lawyer on our own in a criminal case. I think that this is a good case because many people are accused of doing things that they did not do. This will help lessen the chances of an innocent human beings going to jail. Then again, on the other hand it is helping guilty people get out of jail and back on the streets doing more harm each time they are released. So, many people can look at this in many different perspectives. Mainly, I see it as giving everyone a fair chance.