Gideon v. Wainwright

Gideon v. Wainwright


Gideon v. Wainwright

Gideon v. Wainwright
(1963) is a landmark
 Supreme Court decision in which the court
held that, based on the Sixth Amendment
 to the U.S. Constitution, all
defendants in criminal cases must be appointed counsel if they cannot afford
their own attorneys. The Sixth Amendment provides citizens with the right to a
“speedy and public trial” as well as the “Assistance of Counsel
for his defense”. The rights of this Amendment were found by the Court,
through the application of the Fourteenth Amendment
, to apply to defendants in State courts as well as Federal

In 1961, Gideon was put on trial for allegedly
stealing a small amount of money and possessions from a local bar in Bay
Harbor, Florida. Gideon was given a trial in front of a jury and represented
himself. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in State prison. Gideon
appealed to the Florida Supreme Court on the basis that he was denied the right
to an attorney which violated his Sixth Amendment rights. Gideon’s appeal was
denied. Although this right was guaranteed in Federal courts, the issue of the
right to an attorney in State courts had been controversial since the divided
decision of Betts v. Brady.

From State
prison, Gideon wrote an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court where he argued that
the Fourteenth Amendment applied the rights of the Sixth Amendment to State
courts. He filed suit against the Secretary to the Florida Department of
Corrections, Louie L. Wainwright, claiming that he had been denied the right to
an attorney and forced to represent himself in his criminal conviction.

Gideon was
eventually awarded another trial in which he hired W. Fred Turner as his
attorney. In this retrial in State court, Turner was able to discredit the
testimony of an eyewitness, and as a result, Gideon was acquitted of the

In the Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v.
Wainwright, the unanimous decision overturned the ruling of Betts v. Brady
which ruled that the Sixth Amendment applied only to cases heard in the Federal
courts. Gideon v. Wainwright extended the right to an attorney to all felony
cases. It held this right to be fundamental. In order to provide a fair trial
to a defendant as specified by the Sixth Amendment, all defendants must have
access to defense counsel. Regardless of the fact that some defendants may not
be able to afford counsel, they are still afforded this right and counsel must
be provided to them.

As a result of the Gideon v. Wainwright decision,
the rights of the U.S. Constitution were enforced more stringently. Previously,
the right to an attorney in State courts was based on the facts of each
individual case and then it was determined whether this person required

After the
Gideon v. Wainwright case, the right to an attorney was offered regardless of
the facts of the case. After the Gideon v. Wainwright decision, many changes
were made to the public defender system. It was mandated that all State courts
offer the services of a public defender who was properly trained in all aspects
of the legal system.     




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