Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
Right to an attorney guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment
Decision Date: March 18, 1963
Background: Clarance Earl Gideon was accused of breaking into a bar in Panama City, Florida. The police arrested Gideon and put him in jail. At his trial, Gideon could not afford a lawyer and asked the judge to appoint one for him. The judge refused, and he had to represent himself in court. Gideon was found guilty and sentenced to five years in a Florida state prison. In the prison library, he studied law and sent a petition to the Florida Supreme Court claiming his Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel was violated. The court denied his petition, so Gideon wrote a letter to the United States Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case and determine whether poor defendants should be appointed a lawyer in state criminal trials.
Decision: In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Gideon, guaranteeing the right to legal counsel for criminal defendants in federal and state courts. Following the decision, Gideon was given another trial with an appointed lawyer and was acquitted of the charges.