Midterm Essay Examination
Part 1, #1
Betts v. Brady in 1942 is a court case about an indigent white man named Betts who was charged with robbery. As soon as Betts got arrested he requested council and he was immediately denied. Betts was extremely poor, and he was very backwards to society. The reason why he was denied council was because his request for council was not handled as “special circumstances.” Justice Owen Roberts viewed Betts as an ordinary citizen, one with “ordinary intelligence and ability to take care of his own interests on the trial of a narrow issue.” When Betts went to trial he did not have a lawyer and he had to represent himself. Obviously, Betts lost his trial and he had to serve his time in jail. While Betts was in jail he appealed to the Supreme Court explaining that he was wrongfully accused and was denied council. The Supreme Court denied him and he was left to serve his punishment. Betts’ case was wrongfully decided because his right to a due process under the Constitution was violated. The Bill of Rights states that, “fundamental and essential to a fair trial is made obligatory upon the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Betts was not given his right to council that would have given him a fair trial.
Betts v. Brady decided that council was only required under certain/special circumstances. About 20 years later, another similar case arose, Gideon v. Wainwright. Gideon was arrested and denied council, lost his trial, and was sentenced to jail. However, after appeal, Gideon eventually ended up winning his case. Clarence Earl Gideon was a fifty- one- year old man who had been in and out of jail for most of his life. He eventually got caught Panama City, Florida, at the Bay Harbor Poolroom for breaking in to the establishment. He, like Betts, was a very poor man and he asked for council and was rejected. The book says, “The judge refused, and Gideon was convicted and sentenced.” Gideon’s entire trial lasted less than one day. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to five years in prison. During Gideon’s five year jail sentence he mailed a petition that was handwritten on a piece of lined paper. He sent this letter directly to the Supreme Court. The book goes on to say that, “Gideon did not know that he was asking the Court to reverse itself.” Gideon then waited to see if he would ever hear from the Supreme Court and be granted another trial. After the letter was sent to the Supreme Court, it got the attention of some new men that President Kennedy had appointed. Arthur Goldberg and Byron White jumped on the case. These men along with Warren Court wanted to find the best lawyer for Gideon so that they could change the law. After the Supreme Court granted the right to a retrial, Warren was able to get a very prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer, Abe Fortas, to “act as council for Gideon on his appeal.” A member of the supreme court, Justice Black, said, “Since 1942, when Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, was decided by a divided Court, the problem of a defendant’s federal constitutional rights to council in a state court has been a continuing source of controversy and litigation in both state and federal courts.” He believed that a person should never be “deprived of counsel merely because of his poverty. Any other practice seems to me to defeat the promise of our democratic society to provide equal justice under the law.” He questioned whether Betts v. Brady should be reconsidered.” Justice Black said, “Betts claimed that he had been unconstitutionally denied the right to have council appointed to assist him are strikingly like the facts upon which Gideon here bases his federal constitutional claim.” He noted that the facts of the two cases were very close, but the outcome was very different. Betts v. Brady he says was “holding if left standing would require us to reject Gideon’s claim that the Constitution guarantees him the assistance of counsel.” Justice Black...
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