Gideon vs. Wainwright case

Essay by mari625High School, 12th gradeA, May 2006

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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...