Letter G - Gideon Vs. Wainwright -- Landmark U.S Supreme Court Case

A to Z Blogging Challenge - Letter G

Gideon vs. Wainwright (1963)
Right to Counsel, Due Process

"If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in his prison cell ... to write a letter to the Supreme Court ... the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter, the Court did look into his case ... and the whole course of American legal history has been changed." -- Robert F. Kennedy

Face of the Case:

Gideon was arrested for stealing from a pool room in Florida, in 1961. When his case was called for trial he told the judge he was not ready to proceed and asked that a public defender be appointed to represent him. He stated that he lacked the funds to hire an attorney on his own. The judge denied his request on the grounds that only people charged with capital offenses were entitled to court appointed attorneys. Gideon was forced to trial without an attorney and he represented himself. After being found guilty the judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

While in prison Gideon filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Florida Supreme Court. He challenged the validity of his conviction. He also filed a handwritten petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. The court agreed to hear his case because of the pressing question:

Q: Was his right to counsel violated under the 6th Amendment to the Constitution as it applies to defendants in state court via the 14th Amendment?


In a unanimous decision (unanimous decisions are rare) the court held that Gideon's 6th amendment had been violated. The 6th amendment's guarantee of counsel is a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial. His case was reversed and remanded.

This was the beginning of what many referred to as the Warren Court Rulings

I realize we're all short on time this month, but if you're interested, there's a cool trial scripted re-enactment of Gideon Vs Wainwright. If you have some time, you may want to take a look

Letters H & I tomorrow 

Letter I is the first chance to win an amazon gift card. 

First person to solve the mystery wins.


  1. Hi Melissa - shows you what one person can do ... how very interesting - but thank you for posting the link - I'll be able to be back at some stage and look through it ... cheers Hilary

  2. Really interesting. I'm glad he got his chance at a fair trial


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