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.
Joanna L. Grossman and Leon Friedman,
A Lawyer for All: The 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright Verdict
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