Gideon v. Wainwright
Decided on Mar. 18, 1963; 372 US 335



The court must assign an attorney in a criminal trial if defendant cannot afford one because the
"assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial."

 

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Right to counsel 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the state court's failure to appoint counsel for Gideon violate his right to a fair trial and due process of law as protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Charged in a Florida State Court with a noncapital felony, [Gideon] appeared without funds and without counsel and asked the Court to appoint counsel for him; but this was denied on the ground that the state law permitted appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in capital cases only.

[Gideon] conducted his own defense about as well as could be expected of a layman; but he was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Subsequently, he applied to the State Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that his conviction violated his rights under the Federal Constitution. The State Supreme Court denied all relief." 

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the State Supreme Court of Florida.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Abe Fortas, by appointment of the Court, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief were Abe Krash and Ralph Temple.

A brief of amicus curiae urging reversal was filed by J. Lee Rankin, by special leave of the Court, for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. With him on the brief were Norman Dorsen, John Dwight Evans, Jr., Melvin L. Wulf, Richard J. Medalie, Howard W. Dixon and Richard Yale Feder.

A brief of amicus curiae urging reversal was filed by the state governments of twenty-two States and Commonwealths by Edward J. McCormack, Jr., Attorney General of Massachusetts, Walter F. Mondale, Attorney General of Minnesota, Duke W. Dunbar, Attorney General of Colorado, Albert L. Coles, Attorney General of Connecticut, Eugene Cook, Attorney General of Georgia, Shiro Kashiwa, Attorney General of Hawaii, Frank Benson, Attorney General of Idaho, William G. Clark, Attorney General of Illinois, Evan L. Hultman, Attorney General of Iowa, John B. Breckinridge, Attorney General of Kentucky, Frank E. Hancock, Attorney General of Maine, Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, Thomas F. Eagleton, Attorney General of Missouri, Charles E. Springer, Attorney General of Nevada, Mark McElroy, Attorney General of Ohio, Leslie R. Burgum, Attorney General of North Dakota, Robert Y. Thornton, Attorney General of Oregon, J. Joseph Nugent, Attorney General of Rhode Island, A. C. Miller, Attorney General of South Dakota, John J. O'Connell, Attorney General of Washington, C. Donald Robertson, Attorney General of West Virginia, and George N. Hayes, Attorney General of Alaska.

Robert Y. Thornton, Attorney General of Oregon, and Harold W. Adams, Assistant Attorney General, filed a separate brief for the State of Oregon, as amicus curiae.

Bruce R. Jacob, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Richard W. Ervin, Attorney General, and A. G. Spicola, Jr., Assistant Attorney General.

George D. Mentz, Assistant Attorney General of Alabama, argued the cause for the State of Alabama, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance. With him on the brief were MacDonald Gallion, Attorney General of Alabama, T. W. Bruton, Attorney General of North Carolina, and Ralph Moody, Assistant Attorney General of North Carolina.


IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The Sixth Amendment [of the Bill of Rights] provides, 'In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right...to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence'...We accept...that a provision of the Bill of Rights which is 'fundamental and essential to a fair trial' is made obligatory upon the States by the Fourteenth Amendment..."

The Supreme Court held that: "the right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner's trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment."

The United States Supreme Court reversed the Supreme Court of Florida judgment.

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con
(Unanimous Decision for Petitioner/Appellant)
  • Black, H. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Clark, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Warren, E. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida; the Supreme Court reversed in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.