"Gideon's Trumpet": A Blast from the Past
Mar 19, 2013A well-known biblical story in the book of Judges has a wheat farmer by thename of Gideon appointed by an angel of the Lord to take ancient Israel into battle:"I (the Lord) will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianitestogether" (Judges 6:16). The order came to equip every soldier with a trumpet. Theresults: "When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the(Midianites) throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords" (Judges8:22).
Another Century; Another Gideon
Fifty years ago March 18, 2013, another trumpet was sounded. Lawenforcement, the arch enemy of constitutional rights for the accused, fell on eachother with their swords but lived to fight another day. Author Anthony Lewis penned the story about another Gideon who, it turned out, may have been the most brilliant jailhouse lawyer in American history.It was 1963. I was an newbie electrical engineer buildingspy satellites for Eastman Kodak Co., a subcontractor to GeneralElectric. I began itching to attend law school, whereupon Kodak offered to pay my way to George Washington University LawSchool while I worked in a patent law office in DC. I began in thefall of 1963 at the height of the civil rights crisis and the zenith of the Warren Court.A drifter by the name of Clarence Gideon became a focus in my first year of law school. His suit against the Florida Commissioner of Corrections was the casethat established for the first time in US history that everyone accused of a crimehas a 6th amendment right to a lawyer. What was astounding about
was that Clarence Gideon, after the trial judge refused his request for court-appointed counsel, went on to represent himself all the way to the USSupreme Court. He wrote his appeal brief in pencil on lined paper, was represented by court-appointed future Justice Abe Fortas as counsel, and won a unanimousopinion. Overturned was the 1942 case,
Betts v. Brady
, that essentially limited theright to counsel to capital cases.
The End of Presumption of Guilt?
At his retrial, it took the jury an hour to find Gideon not guilty of breakingand entering and burglary.That should have been the end to the presumption of guilt of indigents,comprising some 80% of all criminal defendants. Instead, it was its codificationinto a system of a deluge of appeals nearly impossible to prove.