Criminal Law: A Gideon’s Case

Table of Contents

Suspected of a misdemeanor (non-capital felony), law enforcing agents arrested Gideon, whereby the Florida court found him guilty of the offense; hence, granted him a five year jail term. Due to his economic status, Gideon could not afford a personal lawyer hence presented his petition to the Florida court to use services of a state counsel, something that the court denied him. The court denied him the favors on grounds that, his crime was less heinous for him to receive such favors; the court only granted such a favor to individuals who had committed capital crimes. Although the defendant tried to fight for himself by arguing that, he had the right of representation by a state advocate as the supreme court directs, the court denied him such rights; hence, sentencing him. Not satisfied with the court ruling, the defendant later appealed the case to the Supreme Court by a habeas corpus appeal on grounds that, by denying him a state advocate the court had violated his constitutional right of representation during trial, for it was a prerequisite of a reasonable trial. In addition, the defendant stated that, considering provisions in the bill of rights, the court had gone against what he deserved; hence, jeopardizing his trial. Referring to previous cases of the same nature, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment, hence granted Gideon freedom. The court reversed the case on grounds that, every American citizen had the right of enjoying the services of state counsel in case they could not afford one, something that the lower courts had gone against by denying Gideon such Privileges.


Should courts grant all individuals state counsel incase they cannot afford to have their personal lawyers to represent them regardless of nature of their cases?

Did the court violate Gideon’s representation rights by denying him the services of a state counsel as dictated by law?


Considering the nature of controversy that surrounded cases where the courts had to appoint state counsel to represent individuals who could not afford personal lawyers, the court had to refer to two previous cases that had the same dilemma before the court made judgment. Hence, due to this the court gave Gideon a certiorari and went ahead to compare it with controversies that surrounded the Bett’s and Powell’s case. Referring to provisions in the sixth amendment, all individuals had the rights of representation by state counsel in all national courts, something that the fourteenth amendment supported. In addition, considering protections provided by the bill of rights and the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment, all individuals deserved protection, hence both the state and federal governments had no rights of violating these liberties. This made the court to reverse the sentence on grounds that, the provisions in this two laws protected individuals’ liberties from interference by the state and federal governments.


The court overruled decisions in Bett’s case because of the discriminating nature of its ruling, using the provisions of the sixth amendment. On the other hand, it concurred with the ruling in Powell’s case because all individuals had equal rights of accessing state counsel incase they could not afford personal lawyers. This is because representation was an individual right and the only way of ensuring all individuals had fair trials.

Concurring Opinions

Justice Clark concurred by arguing that, there were such divisions in the constitution on the nature of cases that the courts were to provide state counsel, hence all individuals had that right, a point that justice Douglas supported. In addition, Harlan’s view was that, because what Gideon had committed was a serious criminal offense, he had the rights of representation

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