The Lawyer as Counsel de oficio
The movie, Gideon’s Trumpet (a true story from the US landmark case Gideon vs Wainwright,1), was the sad plight and triumph of Clarence Earl Gideon, charged in a Florida State Court with a non-capital felony, breaking and entering a pool room. He appeared without funds and without counsel and asked the Court to appoint counsel for him, but this was denied on the ground that the state law permitted appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in capital cases only. Gideon conducted his own defense (pro se) about as well as could be expected of a layman, but he was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for five years. Using the prison library for reference, he files a writ of habeas corpus with the Florida Supreme Court, but his petition was denied. He then wrote a letter to the Supreme Court seeking appeal, to which the Supreme Court granted certiorari, and appointed a very competent counsel (Abe Fortas, who became a Supreme Court Justice2). In a unanimous 9-0, the Court held that its opinion in Betts vs Brady (1942), which apply selectively the right of counsel under “special circumstances” doctrine, hence appointment of counsel was not a fundamental right, was unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court incorporated the Right to Counsel Clause to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process clause, finally establishing that even indigent defendants deserved the benefit of legal representation.
Aesthetically, the movie was a movin g presentation of the obvious injustice and unfair trial received by Gideon due to his uncounseled appearance in court, and his great zeal o f seeking appeal on his behalf. Such movie was a source of inspiration and enlightenment for aspiring lawyers, like this writer, most especially on the discussion of the Justices and the oral 1
372 U.S. 335
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_was_the_Supreme_Court_case_Gideon_v_Wainwright_about#page17 . Last accessed March 6, 2013.
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