Posted by: Author | March 22, 2013

Friday Fact- March 22, 2013- Gideon vs Wainwright

This week saw the anniversary on the 18th of a pivotal US Supreme court case called Gideon v. Wainwright. It was a 1962-63 case. Mr. Gideon was a poor man who was arrested on suspicion of stealing wine and some money from a vending machine in a pool hall in Panama City, Florida. He asked the state court judge to appoint him a lawyer but the court refused since at the time, Florida only appointed free lawyers for indigent people in capital cases (a capital case is one that you can get the death penalty on).

Mr. Gideon was convicted and wrote his own appeal to the Supreme Court on prison stationery (in pencil). The Court decided to hear the case and appointed a Washington D.C. lawyer (Abe Fortis- who was himself later elevated to the US Supreme Court) to represent Mr. Gideon in the appeal.

Justice Hugo Black, for the Court, held that “In our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.”

Mr. Gideon got his state paid for lawyer and a new trial in Florida. His lawyer did a bang-up job and Mr. Gideon was found not guilty.

There are some real problems with our legal system in the USA but this case is an important one for the rights of the little guy in criminal cases.


  1. Very nice blog. Enjoyed it much. :-0

    • Thanks for coming by and for saying so. Mucho appreciated.

  2. For me it has been the realization that our system is not a justice system but a legal system and when things like this are accomplished it moves closer to being justice. Great Friday facts Jillian. 🙂

    • Very true, Lavada. We like to think it’s a justice system, but the country as a whole is deluded about how it really works. Poor people are convicted more often than rich ones to this day. Sad.

  3. I agree this is a pivotal case. Everyone deserves, at the very least, someone to navigate the complicated courts system for them.

    • Total agreement here. For sure. It’s a minefield to the untrained.

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