The Criminal Process
Who was Gideon and who eventually was his appointed counsel?
Clarence Earl Gideon was the criminal defendant in the famous case Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). Gideon allegedly broke into a Florida pool hall to steal money. This criminal act earned him felony charges and later a conviction in Florida state court. In the beginning of the case, Gideon asked the court for a lawyer. The trial judge responded that under Florida law the only criminal defendants entitled to a court-appointed lawyer were those defendants facing capital (death-penalty) charges. Gideon insisted that “the United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by Counsel.”
Gideon appealed his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Court accepted his case for review and appointed him a Washington, D.C.-based attorney named Abe Fortas to represent Gideon before the Court. Ironically, Fortas later became a United States Supreme Court Justice.
As alluded to earlier, Gideon’s case spurred action by the U.S. Congress which required in every federal judicial district a system to create proper legal representation for criminal defendants.