Gideon v. Wainwright | Homework Help from the Bill of Rights Institute
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Gideon v. Wainwright | Homework Help from the Bill of Rights Institute

Male Presenter: In
1963, the Supreme Court declared that states are required to provide free legal
counsel for any indigent defendant charged
with a serious crime. Female Presenter: What was the nature
of the case that dramatically altered our legal system
and on what basis was it decided? This is the case of Gideon v.
Wainwright. [music] Male Presenter: On June 3rd,
1961, the Pool Room bar in Panama City, Florida was robbed of a small
amount of money and alcohol. Resident Henry Cook came forward
and claimed to witness 51-year-old electrician Clarence Earl Gideon
leave the bar with stolen items. Gideon, who had prior convictions for robbery,
burglary and larceny was soon arrested and charged
with both breaking and entering and petty larceny. Female Presenter: Unable to afford
legal counsel, Gideon requested that the state provide him
with an attorney, but was denied. Now representing himself in court,
Gideon was convicted of both crimes and given a maximum
sentence of five years. Male Presenter: Now
incarcerated by what he believed to be an unfair trial,
how would Gideon respond? Female Presenter: Determined to
fight back and earn his freedom, Gideon went to the prison library
and studied the legal system. In January 1962, Gideon wrote
a five-page letter to the United States Supreme Court pleading
for them to hear his case. To Gideon’s relief, they accepted. Gideon v. Wainwright was underway. Male Presenter: In
Gideon’s corner was Supreme-Court-assigned
attorney Abe Fortas. Fortas argued that there
could not be a fair trial in a criminal case
without counsel and that citizens uneducated
in legal matters cannot properly defend themselves
in a court of law. Female Presenter: Fortas’s
main argument came under the Sixth Amendment’s
guarantee to the right of counsel in a criminal
case, which applies to states via the 14th
Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Male Presenter: Attorney Bruce Jacob
represented the state of Florida. His main argument
against Gideon was that the state of Florida
was only required by law to provide free legal counsel for those accused
of capital offenses. Female Presenter: The fate
of Gideon and other inmates nationwide was hanging
on the Supreme Court’s decision. Did the state of Florida meet
the constitutional requirements of a fair trial when they
denied Gideon legal counsel? Male Presenter: Delivered by
Justice Hugo Black, the ruling was in Gideon’s favor by
the unanimous vote of nine to zero. Female Presenter: Thus, overturning
the 1942 case Betts v. Brady. States were now required to provide
free legal counsel for indigent defendants charged with any serious
crime, not just capital offenses. Male Presenter: Despite
Gideon’s victory, he still needed a new trial to
overturn his conviction. Using his newfound right
to free legal counsel, Gideon received the assistance
of Attorney W. Fred Turner. Female Presenter: After the witness’s
testimony was discredited, the jury acquitted Gideon of all charges
and he was a free man once again. Male Presenter: Considering
the thousands of defendants convicted of felonies without
access to counsel across the country, detractors argued
that providing legal counsel in such a large volume would
stall the court system. Female Presenter: The
role of the Public Defender rose to prominence and continues to
provide representation for defendants to this day. Male Presenter: Gideon would
preserve a clean legal record for the remainder of his
life until his death in 1972. On his headstone is
a quote from a letter he wrote to Fortas after the ruling, “Each era finds an improvement
in law for the benefit of mankind.” Female Presenter:
What will be the next Supreme Court case to exemplify this? This was the case of Gideon v.
Wainwright. Next time you need help cramming for a test or a quiz,
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