The COURT: … Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint Counsel to defend you in this case.
The DEFENDANT: The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by Counsel.
That exchange, between prisoner Clarence Earl Gideon and a Florida judge, would lead to a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a criminal defendant who cannot afford to hire a lawyer must be provided one at no cost.
Gideon, a penniless drifter, had ignited a right to counsel revolution from his jail cell.
This year, as Gideon v. Wainwright turns 50, the David and Goliath battle for equal justice continues. It will be explored in 2013 releases such as author Karen Houppert’s Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice and HBO’s Gideon’s Army, a film that exposes the heavy caseloads and unsinkable idealism of public defenders in the Deep South.
It is also a chance for public defenders, bar associations and those who work in legal aid to celebrate the right to counsel – and fight to realize Gideon’s promise. In this site, you will find tools and messages that are right for your community and support to plan your own Gideon celebration.
The time is now. Let’s get started.
Watch Clarence Earl Gideon, Constitutional Hero on YouTube