Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed.2d 799 (1963)
Gideon was arrested for robbery.
He asked the judge to appoint him counsel, but the judge refused.
In that jurisdiction,
counsel was only appointed for cases involving a capital offense.
Gideon was convicted and
sentenced to prison. From prison, Gideon handwrote a letter directly to
the US Supreme Court asking for relief. Surprisingly, the Court decided
to hear the case.
Gideon argued that without
counsel, he could not get a fair trial, and that violated the 6th
"In all criminal
prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right... to have the
Assistance of Counsel for his defence."
The US Supreme Court
overturned the conviction and appointed Gideon legal counsel.
The US Supreme Court had
long held that the 6th Amendment required counsel, but until this time had held that the 6th
Amendment only applied to Federal
See Betts v. Brady (316 U.S. 455 (1942)).
See Powell v. Alabama (287 U.S. 45 (1932)), which used a
case-by-case basis approach to determine when a lawyer was required for due
process to be satisfied.
The Court overruled Betts and found that the 14th
Amendment requires that the States
adopt the 6th Amendment guarantee of appointed counsel because it is a fundamental right
that is essential for a fair trial.
Upon remand, and with an
appointed counsel, the Trial Court found Gideon innocent and set him free.
The case applied what was
known as the selective incorporation approach
for incorporating the Bill of Rights into State law.
The other approaches are the
fundamental fairness approach and
the total incorporation
See Palko v. Connecticut (302 U.S. 319 (1937)).
This case finally established
that indigent defendants have a right to free counsel in all criminal
prosecutions in all courts in the US (in 1963!).