The right to appointed counsel in decisions of the United States Supreme Court prior to Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
From the Judiciary Act to incorporation doctrine
In the landmark decision Miranda v. Arizona (1966) the US Supreme Court stated in the name of Chief Justice Earl Warren that “…He [accused] has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires. Opportunity to exercise these rights must be afforded to him throughout the interrogation” (Harrison, 2006, p. 68).
Nevertheless, despite obvious necessity of a counsel to ensure the due process, the right to counsel has long-standing and ambiguous history in the United States.
Back to the 18th century, the Judiciary Act of 1789 (Section 35) gave defendants in federal cases the right to counsel and most states had similar law (Holmes, 2012, p. 110). Therefore, the intent to establish certain rights for accused due to proposed fundamental fairness of criminal process can be found at the very beginning of the young American republic. However, it stated just the right to have a counsel. The government was not supposed to appoint one.
In the following year the Federal Crimes Act of 1790 gave a ruling that “Congress imposed a duty on federal courts to assign counsel in capital cases, and […] custom developed in most federal courts to appoint counsel for indigent in all serious crimes” (Urofsky, 2001, p. 170).
The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The Sixth Amendment and its particular clause pertaining to a counsel state that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence”. Regardless of its unquestioning importance, the Sixth Amendment laid the foundation for the continuing controversies.
Despite the Fourteenth Amendment and the incorporation doctrine, accused “were not protected in all state courts. Each state was free to interpret sixth amendment in its own way. Some states chose to deny poor defendants the right to an attorney, even in capital cases, where the punishment could be death” (Fridell, 2006, pp. 33-34).
That such a mazy and very discretional situation with application rights of accused to the state level remained without any significant changes for decades. Not until the case Powell v. Alabama (1932) which is the merely first case in the row of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that led to incorporation the full range of rights to the state level, and particularly the right of appointed counsel.
Powell v. Alabama (1932)
In this case nine African American men were indicted for the rape of two white girls. All accused were tried by all-white jury in the very hostile atmosphere. The accused men were not very educated and they even could not read.
During the process, defendants were not represented by a counsel, the judge appointed “all members of the bar” to defend them (Vile, 2010, p....