Gideon vs. Wainwright remains a very important case in the history of the United States. It is a landmark case decided in 1963 with the Supreme Court ruling that it is mandatory for all states in America to provide free legal counsel to defendants who might not be in a position to afford one; this is in accordance with the Sixth Amendment of the American constitution.
The case is considered a landmark because it put a stop to an issue that had been brought before the court in 1932, in the Powell vs. Alabama, where the court had ruled that the right to an attorney was entrenched in the bill of right and was hence a fundamental right. However a court ruling in Betts vs. Brady (1942), the court provided a different modification ruling an attorney would be provided to a defendant only if it was apparent that an absence of one would impact on the verdict. It is the Gideon vs. Wainwright case that would settle the matter once and for all, further emphasizing the provision of a lawyer by the state as part of a fundamental right to a fair hearing.
Clarence Earl Gideon was brought before the court in 1961 accused of stealing alcohol and some money from vending machines; these were found in his pocket and home after a search by the police. He was very poor and could not afford himself a lawyer. Gideon had argued his case in the court emphasizing that it was entrenched in the constitution that he should be provided with an attorney by the state. The court on its part clarified on the matter ruling that the state can only provide a defendant with an attorney in a capital offence. Gideon hence had to represent himself in court claiming his innocence.
He was found guilty and sentenced to five years (Van Alstyne, William W, 607). In prison, Gideon researched in the library and presented his appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. In this appeal, he was arguing that by having been denied the right to a free counsel, his rights as provided by the sixth amendment had been violated. He filed his appeal as a suit against Louie L. Wainwright who by then was the secretary to the Florida department of corrections. He was provided with a lawyer this time, Abe Fortas, a highly competent lawyer from the Arnold and Peter law firm.