Gideon v. Wainwright

Why is the case important?

Question

Does the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel in criminal cases extend to felony defendants in state courts?

Conclusion

The Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a right to assistance of counsel applies to criminal defendants in state court by way of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Hugo L. Black, the Court held that it was consistent with the Constitution to require state courts to appoint attorneys for defendants who could not afford to retain counsel on their own. The Court reasoned that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel is a fundamental and essential right made obligatory upon the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused the right to the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions and requires courts to provide counsel for defendants unable to hire counsel unless the right was competently and intelligently waived. Justice Douglas, while joining the Court’s opinion, elaborated, in a separate opinion, the relation between the Bill of Rights and the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justices Clark and Harlan concurred in separate decisions.

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Location:
Bay County Circuit Court
Respondent:
Louie L. Wainwright, Director, Division of Corrections
Petitioner:
Clarence Earl Gideon
Warren Court
Citation:
372 US 335 (1963)
Argued:
Jan 15, 1963
Decided:
Mar 18, 1963