Gideon v. Wainwright

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Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history. In the case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to afford their own attorneys.


Background of the case

On June 2, 1961 five dollars and a few bottles of beer and soda were stolen from Bay Harbor Pool Room, a pool hall/beer joint that belonged to Ira Strickland, Jr. Strickland also alleged that $5 was taken from the jukebox. Henry Cook, a 22-year-old resident who lived nearby, told the police that he had seen Clarence Earl Gideon walk out of the joint with a bottle of wine and his pockets filled with coins, and then get into a cab and leave.

Put to trial before a jury, Gideon conducted his defense about as well as could be expected from a layman. He made an opening statement to the jury, cross-examined the State's witnesses, presented witnesses in his own defense, declined to testify himself, and made a short argument "emphasizing his innocence to the charge contained in the Information filed in this case." The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and he was sentenced to serve five years in the state prison. Later, Gideon filed in the Florida Supreme Court a habeas corpus petition attacking his conviction and sentence on the ground that the trial court's refusal to appoint counsel for him denied him rights "guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by the United States Government." [1] Treating the petition as properly before it, the State Supreme Court, "upon consideration thereof" but without an opinion, denied all relief.

From his prison cell at Florida State Prison, making use of the prison library and writing in pencil on prison stationery, Gideon appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a suit against the Secretary to the Florida Department of Corrections, Louie L. Wainwright. He argued that he had been denied counsel and, therefore, his Sixth Amendment rights, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, had been violated.

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