Main content

Fictional Scenario - Gideon v. Wainwright

Below is a story of how someone like you might need a public defender.

Tim Jones is a 17-year-old who just completed his junior year.  He has a reputation for hard work in academics and athletics and is widely admired as an inclusive school leader.   Tim has been accepted into the early admissions program at his first-choice college.  When he is not studying or working out with teammates, he is at his part-time job.  Tim has earned his parents’ trust as a responsible son who never misses a curfew. 

To reward him for his maturity and hard work, Tim’s parents allow him to take the family van to go camping with three friends over the Fourth of July weekend at a national park where the family traditionally spends the holiday together. On the way, Tim decides to buy fireworks. He drives his friends across the state line to Evergreen State where they buy fireworks at the same roadside stand that Tim’s Uncle John has taken him to every year.

At the entrance to the federal park where they have reserved a campsite, a sign reads:  “No Fireworks Allowed.”  Tim says that, every year after his parents were asleep in their camper, his Uncle John set off fireworks at this campground with no problems.   

By the time the boys set up camp and build a fire, darkness has fallen, so they set off a quick series of fireworks.  After the first round, the boys notice a small fire in the direction they have been launching the fireworks.  They try unsuccessfully to put out the fire, which grows quickly and forces them to leave the campground.  As Tim drives the van, his friend Terry calls Tim’s dad, who tells them they have to report the fire immediately.  Terry calls the nearest fire department and directs the fire chief to the location of the fire.

When the fire fighters, forest ranger, and sheriff arrive, the fire is out of control.  As the firefighters battle the blaze, Tim gives consent to the park ranger and the sheriff to search the van. They find the remaining fireworks and a receipt from the fireworks stand across the state line. 

By the next morning, three acres of trees in this popular recreation area are destroyed, and a U.S. Forest Service building is burned to the ground.  The initial damage assessment includes more than $200,000 to extinguish the blaze and more than $300,000 to replace the U.S. Forest Service property.

The United States Attorney’s Office for Evergreen is charging Tim with misdemeanor federal crimes of starting a wildfire on federal land and possession of illegal fireworks on federal land.  Tim faces penalties of up to six months in jail, probation supervision, and restitution for the property damage as ordered by the Court. The fire attracts widespread media coverage.  The nearby community and national environmental groups stage protests, demanding the maximum penalties.

DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only. They may not reflect the current state of the law, and are not intended to provide legal advice, guidance on litigation, or commentary on any pending case or legislation.