Tuesday, 19 March 2013

After 50 Years, Gideon v Wainwright Hasn't Delivered

It was a case that promised so much but in reality has delivered so little. In 1961, Clarence Gideon was charged with burglary of a Florida pool bar. Unable to afford counsel at his trial he was unrepresented and ultimately found guilty. Sentenced to five years' imprisonment he appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States on the ground that the Florida law denying him counsel was unconstitutional.

The Justices agreed, Gideon was retried and acquitted.

But in reality the funding simply hasn't materialized to allow poorer defendants representation in some criminal cases. Of course, it's not a political priority and the public at large have little sympathy for those charged with committing criminal offenses.

But the case was a landmark and should be celebrated as such. Allowing an accused person access to an attorney regardless of their means is a fundamental principle in a civilized society. There's an excellent video here from CBS in which Professor Norman Dawson is interviewed.

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