Gideon v Wainwright is a landmark case that adjusted the sixth amendment and impacted American history. In the case, the supreme court ruled unanimously that states are required to provide an attorney for defendants in a criminal case under the Sixth Amendment. If you’re into crime tv shows or cop dramas, you’ll often see those brought in for questioning “lawyering up,” which is their constitutional right.
Somewhere between midnight and 8:00 a.m. on June 3, 1961, a burglary occurred at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City. An unknown assailant broke a door, smashed a record player and a cigarette machine, and stole money from the cash register. Later that afternoon, a witness reported that he had seen Clarance Gideon in the poolroom at around 5:30 that morning. He was leaving with a wine bottle, Coke, and change in his pockets. On this accusation alone, the police arrested Gideon and charged him with breaking and entering with intent to commit theft.
Gideon stood in court alone because he was too poor to afford a lawyer. The court declined to appoint a counsel for Gideon. He was forced to represent himself and hugely emphasized his innocence. At the end of the trial, the jury returned with a guilty verdict, and the court sentenced him to serve five years. Gideon first filed for writ habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Florida. In his petition, he claimed that his fourth amendment right was suspended. The case went to court and involved a plethora of lawyers and the Supreme Court’s decision was announced on March 18, 1963. Head Justice Clark’s concurring opinion stated that the Sixth Amendment does not distinguish between capital and non-capital cases, so legal counsel must be provided for the defendant in all cases. Justice Harlan’s concurring opinion stated that the mere existence of a serious criminal charge in itself constituted particular circumstances requiring the services of counsel at trial.
Because of this landmark case, the amount of money or social standing does not hinder the counsel you deserve under your amendment right.