Gideon’s Trumpet Essay
In 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon, a drifter of limited education and means, was arrested in Florida for petty theft and burglary. When brought to trial, Gideon could not afford legal representation and was denied court appointed legal counsel as Florida state law only provided legal representation for those on trial for capital crimes. Gideon argued that the state law violated the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution that provides legal counsel for all accused criminals who cannot afford their own. Gideon’s argument ultimately was denied by Florida courts and he was forced to represent himself. Being of limited education and having had no legal training, he failed to adequately represent himself and was found guilty. Later, he filed an appeal to his conviction on the same grounds, was granted an attorney, and was able to have his original conviction overturned, setting legal precedent for all accused to be given legal representation if unable to afford their own.
“Gideon’s Trumpet”, by Anthony Lewis, details the background of Gideon’s original case and subsequent conviction, but in the latter chapters of the book (9, 10, 11), also discusses the aftermath of the conviction and overturn; specifically, the filing of Amicus Curiae briefs by the legal authorities of 22 states to protect the rights of their citizens (Lewis, 1964). In plain terms, Amicus Curiae means “friend of the court” which means that the briefs that were filed did not directly affect those who filed them, but these people were acting as a service to others who would ultimately benefit from the ruling. The brief ultimately generated a Supreme Court decision that mirrored the original Gideon decision in Florida, which is to say that all accused criminals in the U.S. are given the option of court appointed legal counsel.
In summary, “Gideon’s Trumpet” skillfully and thoroughly details a pivotal cluster of legal precedents that changed the course of American legal history, and protected the Constitutional rights of the accused. The spirit of Amicus Curiae was certainly illustrated by the filing of class action briefs that followed the Gideon case, and created case law that remains a high water mark in the American legal system.
(Lewis A 1964 Gideon’s Trumpet)Lewis, A. (1964). Gideon’s Trumpet. New York: Random House.