Supreme Court Decision
Gideon v. Wainwright
Gideon overturned the precedent set in 1942's Betts v. Brady decision that only required the Right to Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment to be applied to the states in special cases. With Gideon, the Sixth Amendment became fully incorporated into the Fourteenth and right to counsel became universal in criminal proceedings.
Like the Betts case, Gideon involved a small-time criminal, in this case Clarence Earl Gideon, charged with breaking and entering, who opted to defend himself at trial when the court refused to appoint counsel. Gideon was found guilty and began to file petitions and briefs on his own behalf charging that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel had been violated.
When Gideon filed an in forma pauperis petition (a request for review from a petitioner unable to pay the Court's costs) with the Supreme Court, it accepted it as a long-sought opportunity to review its Betts decision.
The Court unanimously overturned Betts, deciding that the Fourteenth Amendment required states to recognize the right to counsel provided by the Sixth. Gideon was ordered retried with appointed counsel. (In this case, counsel uncovered new defense witnesses and Gideon was acquitted in his new trial.)
Three years later, the Court decided in Miranda that the accused must be notified of his right to counsel before he can be questioned by police.
The decision in Gideon was generally accepted to apply only to felony cases, but in a similar case in 1972, Argersinger v. Hamlin, the Court extended the right to counsel to misdemeanors as well, as long as the defendant is threatened with jail time. Subsequent cases have continued to refine the point in criminal proceedings at which the defendant becomes entitled to counsel, and to establish that the right to counsel includes the concept of effective counsel. In addition, there continues to be agitation for extending the right to civil cases.
By the mid-eighties, two thirds of defendants were represented by appointed counsel, and studies indicated that the risk of conviction was not significantly different than with private counsel.
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Other decisions pertaining to Rights of Accused:
Betts v. Brady [316 U.S. 455 (1942)] Stone Court
Branzburg v. Hayes [408 U.S. 665 (1972)] Burger Court
Brown v. Mississippi [297 U.S. 278 (1936)] Hughes Court
Estes v. Texas [381 U.S. 532 (1905)] Warren Court
Mapp v. Ohio [367 U.S. 643 (1961)] Warren Court
McCardle, Ex Parte [74 U.S. 506 (1869)] Chase Court
Milligan, Ex Parte [71 U.S. 2 (1866)] Chase Court
Miranda v. Arizona [384 U.S. 436 (1966)] Warren Court
Weeks v. United States [232 U.S. 383 (1914)] White Court