On March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, a case that made significant changes to the face of criminal law in the United States.
Charged with breaking and entering into a Florida pool hall, Clarence Earl Gideon could not afford an attorney. After being convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment, he appealed and asserted that his conviction was unconstitutional because the trial court refused to appoint counsel. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, written by Justice Hugo Black, found that the Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to counsel when charged with a serious offense, even if they cannot afford it. Gideon was subsequently retried and acquitted.
In ruling that states are required to provide attorneys to indigent criminal defendants, the Supreme Court effectively created the public defender system that is today accepted as an integral part of the legal community.
Gideon’s Trumpet (Book)
Kyung M. Lee, Reinventing Gideon v. Wainwright: Holistic Defenders, Indigent Defendants, and the Right to Counsel, 31 Am. J. Crim. L. 367 (2004). (Article mentions The Bronx Defenders.)
Bruce R. Jacob, Memories and Reflections about Gideon v. Wainwright, 33 Stetson L. Rev. 181 (2003). (The author is the former Florida Assistant Attorney General who argued the case before the United States Supreme Court.)