ACLU History: Gideon v. Wainwright

Document Date: September 1, 2010

One year after Mapp, the Supreme Court handed down yet another landmark ruling in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, holding that the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial guaranteed all defendants facing imprisonment a right to an attorney, not just those in death penalty cases.

The case was argued by future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, with support from the ACLU, which urged the Court to overturn the conviction of Clarence Gideon, a petty thief from Florida who had been forced to defend himself after being denied a lawyer. With the assistance of a lawyer, Gideon was acquitted on retrial, and states were required for the first time to provide free legal counsel to indigent defendants.

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