“The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”
This case explores the legal concepts of the right to counsel and due process.
In June 1961, a burglary occurred at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City, FL. Police arrested Clarence Earl Gideon after he was found nearby with a pint of wine and some change in his pockets. Gideon, who could not afford a lawyer, asked a Florida Circuit Court judge to appoint one for him arguing that the Sixth Amendment entitles everyone to a lawyer. The judge denied his request and Gideon was left to represent himself. He did a poor job of defending himself and was found guilty of breaking and entering and petty larceny.
While serving his sentence in a Florida state prison, Gideon began studying law, which reaffirmed his belief his rights were violated when his request for counsel was refused. From his prison cell, he handwrote a petition asking the Supreme Court of the United States to hear his case, and it agreed. The Court unanimously ruled in Gideon’s favor, stating that the Sixth Amendment requires state courts to provide attorneys for criminal defendants facing felony charges who cannot otherwise afford counsel.