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The notion that a criminal defendant ought to have the benefit of a lawyer—paid for by the government, if necessary—when facing the possible loss of liberty seems unremarkable today. The Miranda warnings, which are a staple of television and movie scripts, as well as a requirement of real-life custodial interrogations by the police, are a constant reminder of the right to appointed counsel. But when Clarence Earl Gideon stood trial for burglary, his repeated requests for a lawyer fell on deaf ears. He was convicted and sent to prison for five years. But he didn’t give up. He wrote a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court, insisting that the constitution guaranteed him the right to counsel. His persistence would change the face of criminal justice in the United States.



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