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The Right to an Attorney

May 19th, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Although nowadays we take the right to an attorney in a criminal trial for granted, most people don’t know that this right is only about 50 years old. What’s more, the right might never have come into effect without one man: Clarence Earl Gideon. LeeviClarence Earl Gideon was a poor drifter who was accused in a Florida court of felony theft. He had stolen a measly amount of money and a few bottles of beer and soda from a beer joint. Gideon could not afford the assistance of a lawyer and the state of Florida would not provide him with one. Gideon had to represent himself at his own trial and he lost the case. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon did not give up, however. He studied the US legal system and decided that his constitutional rights had been violated. The Sixth Amendment states that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” Gideon wrote a petition to the Supreme Court of the United States which agreed to hear his appeal. Eventually, the Supreme Court decided that “a criminal defendant who cannot afford to hire a lawyer must be provided with a lawyer at no cost.” Gideon was later acquitted in another trial. In 1963, Robert F. Kennedy said that “If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in prison with a pencil and paper to write a letter to the Supreme Court; and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look at the merits in that one crude petition among all the bundles of mail it must receive every day, the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed.” If you are facing criminal charges, remember your rights. Contact a skilled criminal defense attorney in Chicago, Illinois today.

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos

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