On March 19, 2013 Reentry Central posted the article, “Fifty Years after Gideon v. Wainwright the Battle Goes On,” which described Clarence Gideon’s legal battle for all indigent defendants to be appointed a lawyer when they could not afford to pay for them, and the aftermath of the Court’s decision. The article stated:
Justice-loving Americans owe Clarence Gideon a debt of gratitude. In 1961 when Gideon appeared in a Florida court after being arrested for burglary, he asked to be appointed a lawyer because he was indigent and could not afford to pay for one. His request was denied by the presiding judge who claimed counsel could only be appointed for defendants accused of a capital offense. Gideon was forced to represent himself, and was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.
Claiming that his Sixth Amendments rights were violated, Gideon filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court against the secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. Thus the stage was set for Gideon v. Wainwright. Gideon was assigned the prominent attorney Abe Fortas, who would later become a Supreme Court Justice.
On March 18, 1963 a unanimous decision was handed down by the Supreme Court which ruled that under the Fourteenth Amendment state courts must provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who cannot afford to pay for an attorney.
Although Gideon wasn’t released from prison, based on the Supreme Court’s decision, 2,000 Florida prisoners were. Gideon was granted a new trial, and was acquitted. Because of Clarence Gideon, untold numbers of poor defendants have the right to be provided with counsel. But many are still being denied those rights.
But as the tag line to the article declared, “Some states ignore the Court’s decision, while some lawyers can be a defendant’s worse nightmare.”
Adam Liptak addresses the problems and potential solutions concerning indigent defendants getting adequate legal representation. One of the solutions just might be government funded “Gideon Vouchers” which allows an indigent defendant to choose his or her lawyer.