1961 August 4

Clarence Gideon Convicted; Begins Road to Supreme Court


Clarence Gideon on this day was convicted of breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny in Florida. Without ever having the assistance of a lawyer, he was sentenced to five years in prison. On March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in the landmark decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, which under the Sixth Amendment guaranteed the right to an attorney in all felony cases. When he was retried on the original charges, this time with an attorney, the jury took just one hour to acquit him.

The Supreme Court in Gideon: “Reason and reflection require us to recognize that, in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.”

Read the classic account of the case: Anthony Lewis, Gideon’s Trumpet (1964)

Watch a documentary about Gideon and his case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Iustxd3Vgw

See Clarence Gideon’s handwritten appeal to the Supreme Court (open and scroll down): http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/how-americans-lost-right-counsel-50-years-after-gideon

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