Gideon’s Trumpet, by: Anthony Lewis
Clarence Earl Gideon was born on August 30, 1910 in Missouri. Gideon lost his father when he was three years old. His home life was non existent as he ran away from home when he finished eighth grade and started living his life as a homeless drifter. By the time that Gideon reached the age of sixteen he had an extensive list of petty crimes. At age eighteen he was arrested in Missouri and convicted of robbery, larceny and burglary. Gideon was sentenced to ten years in prison but was released in 1932 after serving three years.
Gideon would spend most of the next thirty years in poverty and in and out of prison. Throughout this time he was ...view middle of the document...
What says the State, are you ready to go to trial in this case?
Mr. Harris (William E. Harris, Assistant State Attorney): The State is ready your Honor.
The Court: What says the Defendant? Are you ready to go to trial?
The Defendant: I am not ready your Honor.
The Court: Did you plead not guilty to this charge by reason of insanity?
The Defendant: No Sir.
The Court: Why aren’t you ready?
The Defendant: I have no counsel.
The Court: Why do you not have counsel? Did you not know that your case was set for trial today?
The Defendant: Yes sir, I knew that it was set for trial today.
The Court: Why, then, did you not secure counsel and be prepared to go to trial?
The Defendant: I request this Court to appoint counsel to represent me in this trial.
The Court: Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the court can appoint counsel to represent the Defendant is when the person is charged
with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint counsel to defend this case.
The words uttered by Judge McCrary seemed to be so foreign to Gideon. In his mind he could not understand why he could not have counsel, with the limited eighth grade education that he held he assumed that the Bill of Rights and somewhere in the Constitution of the United States, he, a poor man, was entitled to have a lawyer help in his defense. Gideon, having been denied counsel, was forced to defend himself at his trial and was convicted of breaking an entering with the intent to commit larceny. On August 27th, 1961, three days before his 52nd birthday, Judge McCrary gave Gideon the maximum sentence of five years in prison. This would be the beginning of a journey Gideon never imagined would impact the judicial system so strongly; nor did he realize that his name would become synonymous with the rights of the poor to have legal counsel in any judicial defense.
From the beginning Gideon was tormented with his inability to have received counsel due to his financial situation. He began reading law books in the prison library and then began his study of the American legal system. He came to the conclusion that Judge McCrary had violated his constitutional rights to counsel under the Sixth Amendment, applicable to the state through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
He almost immediately wrote to an FBI office in Florida, but he was denied help. On October 30, 1961 less than thirty days from when he was sentenced he applied to the Florida Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, an order freeing him on the ground
that he was illegally imprisoned. Finally, on the morning of January 8, 1962, the Supreme Court of the United States received an envelope from prisoner No. 003826 of Florida State Prison; Gideon had hand written a five page petition to the United States...