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Perspectives

Publication Date

5-1-2010

Abstract

“Your Honor, I request this Court to appoint counsel to represent me in this trial,”1 stated defendant Clearance Earl Gideon before the Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. The court replied, “Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the court can appoint counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request for counsel to defend you in this case.”2 Before 1963 there was no standard in American state courts requiring counsel as an essential fundamental right. Gideon v Wainwright is a landmark case in Supreme Court history because it was a vital step in the fight for the right to legal counsel. The court unanimously ruled that all state courts were required under the Sixth Amendment, of the United States Constitution, to provide counsel in all criminal cases for defendants who were not able to afford counsel.3 Gideon overruled a twenty year old Supreme Court decision in Betts v Brady by establishing that due process as incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment obligated the states to furnish counsel in every case. Gideon v Wainwright has helped to remove vulnerabilities and ambiguities in the criminal justice system. It further protects American society by helping to provide an egalitarian system of administering justice, setting a clear standard for state courts to follow and allowing room for future developments in the right to counsel.

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