Gideon v. Wainwright

PETITIONER: Clarence Earl Gideon
RESPONDENT: Louie L. Wainwright, Director, Division of Corrections
LOCATION: Bay County Circuit Court

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 372 US 335 (1963)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1963
DECIDED: Mar 18, 1963

Facts of the case

Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with a felony: having broken into and entered a poolroom with the intent to commit a misdemeanor offense. When he appeared in court without a lawyer, Gideon requested that the court appoint one for him. According to Florida state law, however, an attorney may only be appointed to an indigent defendant in capital cases, so the trial court did not appoint one. Gideon represented himself in trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon filed a habeas corpus petition in the Florida Supreme Court and argued that the trial court's decision violated his constitutional right to be represented by counsel. The Florida Supreme Court denied habeas corpus relief.


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

Media for Gideon v. Wainwright

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1963 (Part 2) in Gideon v. Wainwright

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1963 (Part 1) in Gideon v. Wainwright

Earl Warren:

Number 155, Clarence Earl Gideon, Petitioner, versus H.G. Cochran, Director, Division of Corrections.

Mr. Fortas.

Abe Fortas:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of Florida.

In issuing the writ of certiorari, this Court expressly requested counsel to discuss the following question: should this Court's holding in Betts versus Brady, 316 U.S. 455, be reconsidered?

The question, of course, is the right of accused in State criminal proceedings to the appointment of counsel, specifically in the present case which you have before you, the question is an exceedingly narrow one.

The question in the present case is whether requests being made by the accused that counsel be appointed to him, the accused being concededly indigent, it is the duty of the State to accede to that request and to appoint counsel as a -- for purposes of assisting the accused in the trial of the case.

In other words, the present case involves a trial, a plea of not guilty.

It involves a felony.

And that is the narrow question that this case presents.

Clarence Earl Gideon was convicted by the State of Florida for the violation of a statute which makes it a felony, unlawfully and feloniously, to break and enter a building of another with intent to commit a misdemeanor.

He was charged with breaking and entering the Pearl -- the Bay Harbor Poolroom in the city -- in Panama City, Florida.

And having broken and entered that poolroom, he is charged with having extracted some wine, perhaps some cigarettes, and a sum of money.

There is no evidence in the record as to the amount, but the amount must have been less than $100 because the statute of the State of Florida defines petty larceny as the taking of goods or money in an amount less than $100.

At the commencement of the trial, the Court asked Clarence Earl Gideon if he was ready to proceed, he said he was not.

He said he was not because he was without funds and without counsel.

And he asked the Court to appoint counsel to represent him.

As you will see on page 2 of the petitioner's brief, the Court replied that he could not appoint counsel to represent a defendant in a noncapital case.

Whereupon, the case proceeded to trial, with Clarence Earl Gideon doing what he could --

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Fortas, excuse me.

Abe Fortas:

-- doing what he could to defend himself.

Yes, Mr. Justice?

Potter Stewart:

There is some point -- the question whether or not its -- we have before us the trial transcript.

But it really doesn't make any difference, does it, because these were the allegations of his habeas corpus --

Abe Fortas:

That's correct.

Potter Stewart:

-- application in the State of Florida.

They don't -- there's no variance between them and this copy.

Abe Fortas:

No, that's correct.

If you -- you will also see on page 2 of petitioner's brief in the footnote that the State of Florida concedes that the allegations in the habeas corpus petition are true.

Namely, that petitioner was without funds and without an attorney at the time of trial, that he requested the appointment of counsel and that the trial court failed to appoint counsel.