The Florida State court indicted Clarence Earl Gideon with a felony. He appeared in the state court without an attorney and asked to for one to be appointed on his behalf owing to his indigence. His plea was declined. This decision was informed by the fact that the Florida law allowed for the appointment of counsel only to those poor defendants that were charged with capital offenses (Worrall, 2015). Gideon had to represent himself at trial; issuing an opening statement to the jury, presenting defense witnesses, and interrogating the opposing witnesses. Although he did not testify, he argued for his innocence. However, he was sentenced to five years state imprisonment when the jury returned a guilty verdict.
Clarence then filed a writ of habeas corpus petition in the Florida Supreme Court. In it, he argued that the Florida State courts denial to assign him an attorney was unconstitutional and a violation of the rights guaranteed him under the Bill of Rights. Although this petition was denied, Gideon went ahead and hand-wrote another appeal to the United States Supreme Court. It was accepted with the aim to determine whether the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution which assures the right to counsel applied to defendants in the state court as was Gideons case (Worrall, 2015).
In the Betts v. Brady (1942) case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the refusal to appoint an attorney for a destitute defendant indicted with a serious criminal offense in a state court was not a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a bid to determine whether Betts case should be reconsidered, the Court allowed Gideons petition for a writ of certiorari.
Justice Tom Clarke concurred with the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution which required the appointment of an attorney in all prosecutions for serious crimes. The Justice further pointed out the lack of a clear distinction between prime and non-prime cases. Also, the Fourteenth Amendment calls for the due process of law for the impoverishment of freedom and life, and it is impossible to make a constitutional demarcation in the degree of the process while relying on the sanction to be imposed. According to Justice John Harlan, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution did not blend with the whole of the Sixth Amendment hence all federal law applied to all the States. Based on these rules of law, the court unanimously overruled Betts v. Brady. The case was reversed and remanded.
The court reinstated that the Sixth Amendment indicates that one deserves an attorney as it is a fundamental right. According to Worrall (2015), one cannot enjoy a fair trial. Also, the Supreme Court approved the assumption in the Betts v. Brady case that a provision of the Bill of Rights is made binding on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in Betts Courts conclusion, the Supreme Court indicated that finding that aid of attorney was not a ground laying right was a deviation from a thought-through precedent. The court, therefore, agreed that any destitute person who is charged in a court of law is only assured of a fair trial if counsel is provided.
The Supreme Court concluded that states are constitutionally obligated to provide defense attorneys to indigent criminal defendants.
Worrall, J. L. (2015). Criminal procedure: From first contact to appeal.
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