The Appeals Process: Gideon v. Wainwright

Clarence E. Gideon was a poor man who lived in Florida in 1960. He was arrested and charged with breaking and entering a pool hall. He could not afford a lawyer. Breaking and entering was a felony offense and being found guilty would mean years in prison. He requested a lawyer, but the judge told him that a lawyer could only be provided to him if he was charged with murder.

Gideon had a trial in the Circuit Court of Florida without a defense lawyer, was found guilty, and sentenced to five years in prison. After Gideon was convicted, he took his case to the Supreme Court of Florida and claimed that the lower courtís refusal to appoint a public defender for him was a denial of his Due Process rights.

He applied to the Supreme Court of Florida for a writ of habeas corpus, an order that asked he be released because he was illegally imprisoned. The Supreme Court of Florida denied his request.

Gideon next asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review his case. The Court agreed to hear Gideonís case and appointed a lawyer to represent him. The Court unanimously ruled that in state criminal trials, a poor person has the right to a lawyer in all felony cases.