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Gideon v.

Wainwright (1963)
Background Summary and Questions
Between midnight and 8:00 am on June 3, 1961, a burglary occurred at the Bay Harbor Pool oom in
Panama !ity, "lorida# $omeone bro%e a window, &ma&hed the cigarette machine and 'u%ebo(, and &tole
money )rom both# *ater that day, a witne&& re+orted that he had &een !larence ,arl -ideon in the
+oolroom at around .:30 that morning# /hen -ideon wa& )ound nearby with a +int o) wine and &ome
change in hi& +oc%et&, the +olice arre&ted him and charged him with brea%ing and entering#
-ideon wa& a &emi0literate dri)ter who could not a))ord a lawyer, &o at the trial, he a&%ed the 'udge to
a++oint one )or him# -ideon argued that the !ourt &hould do &o becau&e the $i(th 1mendment &ay& that
e2eryone i& entitled to a lawyer# 3he 'udge denied hi& re4ue&t, ruling that the &tate did not ha2e to +ay a
+oor +er&on5& legal de)en&e unle&& he wa& charged with a ca+ital crime or 6&+ecial circum&tance&6
e(i&ted# -ideon wa& le)t to re+re&ent him&el)#
1& might be e(+ected, -ideon did a +oor 'ob o) de)ending him&el)# He had done no +re+aration wor%
be)ore hi& trial7 hi& choice o) witne&&e& wa& unu&ual8)or in&tance, he called +olice o))icer& who arre&ted
him to te&ti)y on hi& behal), not ha2ing any rea&on to belie2e they would hel+ hi& ca&e# He had no
e(+erience in cro&&0e(amining a witne&& in order to im+each that +er&on5& credibility, &o hi& line o)
4ue&tioning wa& not a& +roducti2e a& a lawyer5& would ha2e been#
-ideon wa& )ound guilty o) brea%ing and entering and +etty larceny, which wa& a )elony# He wa&
&entenced to )i2e year& in a "lorida &tate +ri&on, +artly becau&e o) hi& +rior criminal record# /hile in
+ri&on, he began &tudying law in the +ri&on library, belie2ing that hi& $i(th 1mendment right& had been
2iolated when he wa& denied a de)en&e lawyer +aid )or by the $tate# Hi& &tudy o) the law led him to )ile a
+etition )or habeas corpus with the $u+reme !ourt o) "lorida, which a&%ed that he be )reed becau&e he
had been im+ri&oned illegally# 1)ter the $u+reme !ourt o) "lorida re'ected hi& +etition, he handwrote a
+etition )or a writ of certiorari to the $u+reme !ourt o) the 9nited $tate&, a&%ing that it hear hi& ca&e# 3he
!ourt allowed him to )ile it in forma pauperis, which meant that the !ourt would wai2e the )ee& generally
a&&ociated with &uch a +etition# -enerally, the !ourt di&mi&&e& mo&t o) the&e +etition&7 -ideon5& wa&
among tho&e that it did not di&mi&&#
:n &tate criminal trial&, are indigent de)endant& entitled to a lawyer, e2en in nonca+ital ca&e&; 3hat wa&
the 4ue&tion the !ourt agreed to decide when they acce+ted -ideon5& +etition# :t wa& not merely a
4ue&tion o) whether -ideon had been treated )airly7 the !ourt5& ruling would a))ect many other +eo+le who
)aced &imilar circum&tance&# :n a +re2iou& deci&ion, Betts 2# Brady <19=>?, the !ourt had held that in &tate
criminal trial&, an indigent de)endant mu&t be &u++lied with an attorney only in &+ecial circum&tance&,
which included com+le( charge& and incom+etence or illiteracy on the +art o) the de)endant# $ince
-ideon had not claimed &+ecial circum&tance&, the !ourt would ha2e to o2erturn Betts in order to rule in
-ideon5& )a2or# <"lorida5& &tate law +ro2ided indigent de)endant& with lawyer& only in ca+ital ca&e&7 many
other &tate& had law& +ro2iding lawyer& to mo&t or all indigent de)endant&#?
What Does the Sixth mendment !ean"
#o Whom Does it $$%y"
Background &n'ormation
/hen the !on&titution wa& )ir&t written, &ome +eo+le thought that it lac%ed +ro2i&ion& to +rotect the +ublic
)rom a +otentially abu&i2e go2ernment# 3he&e +eo+le in&i&ted that a Bill o) ight& be added to it# Jame&
@adi&on wa& commi&&ioned to write thi& document# Hi& original dra)t contained twel2e amendment&, one
o) which included a &ti+ulation that the Bill o) ight& would a++ly to the &tate&# He thought that
amendment wa& one o) the mo&t im+ortant amendment&# Ather& di&agreed with him, arguing that
becau&e many &tate con&titution& had their own Bill& o) ight&, it would not be nece&&ary to +rotect
citiBen& )rom abu&e at the hand& o) the &tate go2ernment&# 3he amendment wa& re'ected and it wa& clear
to mo&t +eo+le that the Bill o) ight& did not a++ly to the &tate&#
3hen, in 1868, when the "ourteenth 1mendment wa& rati)ied, &ome +eo+le argued that it meant that the
Bill o) ight& a++lied to the &tate&, while other& in&i&ted that it did not# 3hi& became the &ub'ect o) inten&e
debate )or year& to come# 3he &co+e o) the $i(th 1mendment, which a++ear& below, wa& +art o) that
mendment (&
:n all criminal +ro&ecution&, the accu&ed &hall en'oy the right to a &+eedy and +ublic trial, by an im+artial
'ury o) the $tate and di&trict wherein the crime &hall ha2e been committed, which di&trict &hall ha2e been
+re2iou&ly a&certained by law, and to be in)ormed o) the nature and cau&e o) the accu&ation7 to be
con)ronted with the witne&&e& again&t him7 to ha2e com+ul&ory +roce&& )or obtaining witne&&e& in hi& )a2or,
and to ha2e the 1&&i&tance o) !oun&el )or hi& de)en&e#
On a separate sheet of paper, answer the following questions)
1# Cid -ideon &eem ca+able o) de)ending him&el); How could a lawyer ha2e hel+ed him;
># Co you thin% the &tate& &hould be re4uired to +ro2ide de)endant& li%e -ideon with a lawyer; /hy
or why not;