Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963): Just 50 years

I was making my coffee; I poured some water over the edge of the filter paper, and the water dripped down the outside of the cone and along the outside of my tumbler. The errant coffee amounted to only a few drops. But my husband was saying something; what he was saying penetrated my concentration, momentarily accounting for my lapse. Or at least that was conceivably the proximate intervening cause.

My husband was saying something about a 50th anniversary. Yesterday was Bach’s 328th birthday. . . now what? He was talking about Gideon v. Wainwright. My coffee was still brewing through my little filter cone. I hadn’t had any yet. My husband had. I gave up. I, a law school graduate, passer of the Bar exam, and former public defender, could not put a case on the name at 7:02 AM without any coffee.

Less than an hour later, my husband, who serves justice as a public defender for our county, was on his way to the jail to meet with clients, meet with the prosecutor to negotiate settlements, etc. I’d had my coffee and decided it was time to review the case that created his honorable position.

Mr. Gideon’s pencil-scrawled petition, drafted in prison in his own hand, brought about the landmark United States Supreme Court decision that cinched the gap between the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process and the 6th Amendment right to counsel. Earlier interpretation provided for the right to counsel only in capital cases. The Court interpreted the Due Process Clause in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to extend the right to all criminal prosecutions in which the defendant’s life or liberty was at stake.

The 6th Amendment reads:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Court appointed attorney Abe Fortas to represent Mr. Gideon. Justice Hugo Black authored the Court’s decision, now known to all of history as Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). These are names of our modern era. I was alive and athletic in their day. Can so fundamental a concept have been law for only 50 years?

Gideon v. Wainwright is why we have public defenders—busy ones. Caseloads have to be capped for ethical reasons—no one can effectively represent an unlimited number of defendants. The number of allowable cases has been the subject of high court decisions, but sufficient funding remains an elusive aspiration. For Gideon’s 50th, U.S. Attorney General Holder announced a federal grant of $1.8 million–for the entire country! And only a small portion of that is earmarked for actual legal representation; the rest is designated for various “programs.”

But $1.8 million is $1.8 million, and $1.8 million is almost $1 million more than the $800,000+ tab the Federal government picked up for AIG resort & spa retreat, after bailing out the company with $85 billion.

Want to stay friends? Do not ever tell me that my husband is working for the “wrong side.” If you do, I shall call you an anarchist, because that is what someone is, if he does not believe in the United States Constitution as the law of the land, and all of the rights and protections it affords, regardless of any gainsayer’s sense of convenient justice.



Filed under Action & Being

5 responses to “Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963): Just 50 years

  1. Anonymous

    Blessings! Of course your husband will always be the good guy!! Of course he will always have a champion in you – and of course his Mother didn’t raise no shirker – Love ya, Tennie


  2. Janet McCormick

    Hear Hear


  3. Heidi

    I am so proud to know you and your husband. Vic has always been an unequivocal good guy in the cause of justice and this role fits right in with that. God raises up men like him as a blessing to society.


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