Gideon Vs. Wainright

Argued: January 15, 1963 --- Decided: March 18, 1963

What Happened During This Case?

  • A man named Clarence Earl Gideon Gideon was charged with breaking and entering with the intent to commit a misdemeanor, which is a felony under Florida law.
  • In open court, he asked the judge to appoint counsel for him because he could not afford an attorney.
  • The trial judge denied Gideon’s request because Florida law only permitted appointment of counsel for poor defendants charged with capital offenses.
  • At trial, Gideon represented himself – he made an opening statement to the jury, cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses, presented witnesses in his own defense, declined to testify himself, and made arguments emphasizing his innocence.
  • Despite his efforts, the jury found Gideon guilty and he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.
  • Gideon filed a petition challenging his conviction and sentence on the ground that the trial judge’s refusal to appoint counsel violated Gideon’s constitutional rights. The Florida Supreme Court denied Gideon’s petition.
  • Gideon next filed a handwritten petition in the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • The Court agreed to hear the case to resolve the question of whether the right to counsel guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution applies to defendants in state court.

What Are The Arguments Of The Case?

  • The local Trial Court and the Florida Supreme Court denied Gideon's right to a lawyer, because he commited a felony and not a capital offense.
  • The Supreme Court decided that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a lawyer is essential to a fair trial, and applies the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Who Won And Why?

  • In the orginal case, Gideon had been sentenced to jail for five years.
  • After he filed for petition to the Supreme Court of the United States, they agreed to re-try him with a lawyer.