Gideon v. Wainwright
372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed.2d 799 (1963)

  • Gideon was arrested for robbery. He asked the judge to appoint him counsel, but the judge refused.
    • In that jurisdiction, counsel was only appointed for cases involving a capital offense.
  • Gideon was convicted and sentenced to prison. From prison, Gideon handwrote a letter directly to the US Supreme Court asking for relief. Surprisingly, the Court decided to hear the case.
    • Gideon argued that without counsel, he could not get a fair trial, and that violated the 6th Amendment.
      • “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction and appointed Gideon legal counsel.
    • The US Supreme Court had long held that the 6th Amendment required counsel, but until this time had held that the 6th Amendment only applied to Federal Cases.
      • See Betts v. Brady (316 U.S. 455 (1942)).
      • See Powell v. Alabama (287 U.S. 45 (1932)), which used a case-by-case basis approach to determine when a lawyer was required for due process to be satisfied.
    • The Court overruled Betts and found that the 14th Amendment requires that the States adopt the 6th Amendment guarantee of appointed counsel because it is a fundamental right that is essential for a fair trial.
  • Upon remand, and with an appointed counsel, the Trial Court found Gideon innocent and set him free.
  • The case applied what was known as the selective incorporation approach for incorporating the Bill of Rights into State law.
    • The other approaches are the fundamental fairness approach and the total incorporation approach.
    • See Palko v. Connecticut (302 U.S. 319 (1937)).
  • This case finally established that indigent defendants have a right to free counsel in all criminal prosecutions in all courts in the US (in 1963!).