United States Supreme Court cases are argued and decided on Constitutional grounds. All arguments and decisions are based on interpretations of the original Constitution and, more often, on Constitutional amendments.
GIDEON v. WAINWRIGHT
In June 1961, Clarence Gideon was arrested and charged with breaking and entering in Bay Harbor. He was tried in a Florida Circuit Court in August 1961. Gideon stated in Court that he was unable to afford a lawyer and asked the Judge to appoint one for him. The Judge said he was sorry but he could not do that, because the laws of Florida called for appointment of counsel only when a defendant was charged with a capital offense [where the death penalty might be imposed]. When the Florida courts denied his claim, he went to the Supreme Court. In his prison he submitted a petition, handwritten in pencil, arguing that Florida had ignored a rule laid down by the Supreme Court: " that all citizens tried for a felony crime should have aid of counsel." Oral arguments were heard on January 15,1962 and the decision was announced on March 18, 1963.
However, Gideon was wrong. The rule applied by the Supreme Court at that time was in fact exactly the opposite. The Constitution, it had held, did not guarantee free counsel to all felony defendants that are unable to retain their own. Since1942, when Betts v. Brady was decided by a divided Court, the problem of defendant's federal constitutional right to counsel in a state court has been a continuing source of controversy and litigation in both state and federal courts. Since Gideon was proceeding without funds, it gave the Justice a chance to think about the constitution. He appointed a counsel to represent him and requested both sides to discuss in their briefs and oral arguments. Should this Court's holding in Betts v. Brady be reconsidered?"
The Supreme Court first dealt with the issue in 1932, in the Scottsboro Case, POWELL v. ALABAMA. DUE PROCESS OF...
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