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...