Clarence Earl Gideon is someone who never made it past
eighth grade after he ran away from home. He always
had a life of being convicted of a crime and being in and out of jails.
The case all started when Gideon was charged with
breaking and entering into a bar in Panama City, Florida in June 1961.
Gideon was arrested and had to go to trial in the court.
During his trial, he asked the judge for a lawyer, since he
could not afford one himself.
However, the judge denied Gideon his right to a lawyer and
proceeded with the case, eventually ruling that Gideon was
guilty and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
While Gideon was in prison, he filed for a writ of habeas
corpus, which is a request to court
that the prisoner was unlawfully placed into prison.
Gideon did this because he argued that since he was not
given an attorney, he did not have a fair trial.
Even after the Florida Supreme Court had received the writ of
habeas corpus from Gideon, Gideon was still charged
In this case, there was a writ of certiorari involved
and Gideon filed a request himself for the U.S. Supreme
Court to hear the case, which they agreed.
The case was set on January 15, 1963, with no Amicus
Curiae briefs. The Supreme court heard the oral arguments
in the Gideon Vs Wainwright case.
Gideon finally had himself a lawyer called Abe Fortas. Abe Fortas
would later become a future supreme court justice.
In the oral arguments, Fortas tried to distance himself from
the argument that Gideon only had an 8th grade education level
so that he could be considered as a special case.
Instead, Fortas argued that Gideon should not have been
rejected an attorney in the first place and that doing so
was against the Constitution.
The argument of Wainwrights side was that Florida law stated
that an attorney may only be appointed if the defendant is in
critical need of one in capital cases.
The court heard the arguments of both sides of the case and
finally made a decision, after their conference, 2 months later
on March 18, 1963.
The chief justice at the time was Earl Warren. Finally, the
opinion of the court was on the side of Gideon and reversed
the decision of the lower courts, which was written by
Justice Black. The other judges, Douglas, Clark, and
Harlan all wrote concurring opinions and there were
no dissenting opinions.
The court argued that in the 6th amendment, everyone is
entitled to a counsel and also a fair Due Process under the
14th amendment. Gideon was relieved from his time in prison
and won the case.
The Gideon vs Wainwright case is a huge addition to the right of
Due Process and signifies that anyone, with either felony or
misdemeanor, has a right to an attorney.