Nov 12, 2017

Only in America

Only in America
History - American Released - Nov 12, 2017

A ne’er-do-well auto mechanic named Clarence Gideon was arrested for petty theft. Because he couldn’t afford an attorney, he asked the court to provide one for him. The court denied his request. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to five years in Florida State Prison.

Clarence Gideon wasn’t ready to give up just yet. He borrowed a book from the prison library and boned up on the appeals process. Then, with a pencil and prison letterhead, he appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. He said the state court had deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to an attorney and thus denied due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. As a layman, Gideon said he was incapable of defending himself in court, and that is why he was now serving time in prison.

Gideon’s chance of finding a needle in a haystack was infinitely better than in having his case heard before the Supreme Court. But, as fate would have it, the case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) was not only heard, but changed the course of American legal history. Gideon’s incredible story, and the story of how the Supreme Court chooses and decides cases, is the subject of “Gideon’s Trumpet” (1964), by Anthony Lewis. Lewis knows the ins and outs of the American judicial system. He was a New York Times reporter who covered the Supreme Court from 1957 to 1964. He also taught law at Harvard from 1974 to 1989.

Click to read the interesting story by Richard Nisley: