Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335; 83 S. Ct. 792; 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963)

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335; 83 S. Ct. 792; 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963)

Facts—Clarence E. Gideon was charged in a Florida state court with having broken into and entered a poolroom with intent to commit a misdemeanor. Under Florida law such an offense is a noncapital felony. Gideon appeared in court without funds and without a lawyer. He asked the court to appoint counsel for him. The court refused because Florida law permitted the appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in capital cases only. Gideon appealed his conviction claiming violation of the constitutional guarantee of counsel.

Question—Must states provide counsel to an indigent defendant in noncapital cases?


ReasonsJ. Black (9–0). The Fourteenth Amendment makes a provision of the Bill of Rights that is “fundamental and essential to a fair trial” obligatory upon the states. The Court noted that “reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to be an obvious truth. 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.” Thus was the guarantee of counsel in the Sixth Amendment applied to all cases in the state courts, capital and noncapital. In so holding, the Court overruled Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942).

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