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Gideon Vs. Wainwright Case Essay

1416 words - 6 pages

Living in a country without having the right to any legal representation, can be very stressful. Forty years ago, on March 1963, the U.S Supreme Court announced one of the most important decisions in its History. The court case Gideon vs. Wainright, established clearly the right of a poor person charged with a felony crime to have a lawyer paid for by the state. The court also ruled that a state must provide legal counsel for anyone who is accused of a felony.The event leading to this court case occurred after Clarence Earl Gideon was accused of breaking into a pool hall in Bay County, Florida, and taking money from the vending machines. Too poor to afford a counsel, he appeared in court and was denied the request to be appointed an attorney because at that time the state of Florida could only appoint counsel if the defendant had been charged with a capitol offense. Gideon was forced to act as his own counsel, and conducted a defense of himself in court pleading his innocence. With his low standard of education, Gideon did a poor job of defending himself. He had done no preparation work before his trial, and his choice of witnesses was not very good. For instance, he called police officers who arrested him to testify for him, not having any reason to believe they would help his case. He had no experience cross-examining a witness in order to increase the jury's credibility. As a result, the jury gave him a guilty verdict sentencing him to five years in a state prison. From his prison cell, and making use of the prison library, Gideon appealed to the U.S Supreme court and filed a petition for habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Florida, which asked that he be freed because he had been imprisoned illegally. Including that he had been denied counsel and therefore his fourteenth amendment rights had been denied without due process of law. After the Supreme Court of Florida rejected his petition, he handwrote a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking that it hear his case. The court passed on the case to the Supreme Court of Florida for where Gideon was to be retried. This decision meant that Gideon received a new trial. A trial in which he had equitable representation by a competent lawyer. In Gideon's retrial, his court appointed attorney and one of the finest attorneys in the country , Abe Fortas, defended him with such excellence that Gideon was acquitted. After a unanimous decision, the opinion of the court delivered by Justice Hugo Black, stated that the right to counsel was a fundamental right and essential for a fair trial. It also ruled that no one, regardless of wealth, education or class, should be charged with a crime and then be forced to face his accusers in court without the guidance of counsel. The American right to have an attorney or counsel in all criminal cases marked a noticeable change from earlier English practice. Since the beginning, England did not permit counsel at all until...

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