Gideon v. Wainwright 6
Gideon v. Wainwright Essay Project
Intro To Criminal Justice CJ 101
Motion Picture Summary: Gideon’s Trumpet
The movie Gideon’s Trumpet (Houseman, J.. 1980.) starring Henry Fonda was about the case which
started as Gideon v. Cochran, however it is better known as Gideon v. Wainwright, because Mr.
Wainwright replaced Cochran as the Director of the Division of Corrections just before the Supreme
Court made the decision. (Gideon v. Wainwright. 2002.)
In this case, Clarence Earl Gideon, who was a man of average intelligence, was accused of breaking
into a pool hall in the early hours of June 3 1961. At the time, the proper process of the criminal justice
system was that the state courts had the right to decide for themselves whether they appointed defense
attorneys for all cases, or just the ones with special circumstances based on the Betts v. Brady decision
in which the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth amendment did not give total right to counsel
except where the lack of an attorney would end up in an abjuration of elemental fairness.
Gideon asked for counsel at his trial and was denied because the state of Florida only appointed
counsel to indigent prisoners if it was a capital offense, and Gideon’s crime did not qualify. The case
was tried and Gideon lost, being sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. He felt like he had been
railroaded, by having to defend himself and was convinced that a lawyer would have done better in his
defense. When he got to the penitentiary, Gideon used the library to research what his rights were.
After finding out the proper procedures, petitioned the court in forma pauperis. This means that an
impoverished person would not have to pay the charges associated with filing the petition. He also
included the motion he filed for a writ of habeas corpus, filed with the Florida Supreme Court, and the
court’s dismissal of the motion.
In the end, the Supreme Court decided to overturn the Betts v. Brady ruling and held that in order to
receive a fair trial, all persons accused of a crime were entitled to counsel. This resulted in Gideon
receiving a new trial, with counsel, in which he was found not guilty.
I found that the movie did a really good job of presenting the real facts of the case in an informative
and entertaining format.
Gideon v. Wainwright: Landmark Case Decision
The Gideon v. Wainwright case is considered a landmark case because it is one of three cases
brought before the Supreme Court that completely changed the face of the criminal justice system in
America. The other two cases were: Escobedo v. Illinois, and Miranda v. Arizona.
This case overturned the Betts v. Brady ruling that states only had to provide counsel to defendants
when they were being charged with a capital offense. The Supreme Court held that any persons
charged with a crime were undeniably afforded counsel due to the Sixth amendment due process right
that no man shall be denied the right to life, liberty or property without a fair trial. Gideon felt that he
had not had a fair trial due to his lack of counsel. (Gideon v. Wainwright html. 2009.)
The importance of this case had far reaching effects. In today’s criminal justice system, every
destitute person is allowed counsel even if they cannot afford one.
Because of this ruling almost all major cities have a public defenders office, and the smaller cities
adjudicators assign private trial lawyers to represent offenders who do not have the money to hire a
lawyer themselves. (Gideon v. Wainwright html. 2009.)
Comparison of Federal and State Courts
The U. S. Constitution represents the highest court and rule of law in our country. From this is
created a federal structure of authority that employs both a federal and state court system , in which
authority is shared by both the state and federal government branches. Each of these braches has its
own court systems. (U.S. Courts. 2009.)
Article III Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution purposely creates the US Supreme Court, and names
Congress as the power that creates the subordinate national federal courts.
There are 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals, 94 U. S. District Courts, the U.S. Court of Claims, and the U.S.
Court of International Trade. U.S. Bankruptcy Courts hear bankruptcy cases. Magistrate Judges can
hear some District Court matters. Persons not satisfied with a ruling of a U.S. District Court, the U.S.
Court of Claims, and/or the U.S. Court of International Trade may take their case to a U.S. Court of
Appeals. The Supreme Court is the final rule of law when it comes to federal constitutional concerns
(U.S. Courts. 2009.)
The types of cases heard by the federal court system include: those that are concerned with the
constitutionality of a law, laws and treaties of the United States, Ambassadors and civic ministers,
disputes between states, bankruptcy, and Admiralty Law. (U.S. Courts. 2009.)
Federal judges are designated by the President of The United States, and established by the Senate.
They are usually appointed for life, and must be impeached to be detached from their post. (U.S.
The Constitution and specific laws of each state are the factors governing the laws of each state.
Each state has a Supreme Court, Circuit and District courts. They also have certain courts for
specialized areas such as probate, family court and others. Persons not happy with decisions in the
circuit and district courts can have their cases heard by the state’s court of appeals or have the option of
the State Supreme Court hearing the case.
Not all cases are entitled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. (U.S. Courts. 2009.)
The cases heard by the state court system include but are not limited to: most criminal cases,
probate, contract cases, and tort cases. State courts are the final law in the decisions made dealing with