Clarence Earl Gideon was a man who believed that he was denied due process of the law by the fourteenth Amendment and believed that the Constitution protected him of that right. The Florida court had refused him an attorney because they decided that he was able to represent himself. The jury found Gideon guilty and the judge sentenced him to five years in prison for petty larceny and for breaking and entering the Bay Harbor Poolroom in Panama City, Florida. Gideon brought his petition before the Supreme Court. The issue of whether a defendant should be permitted to have a lawyer had been on the minds of the Supreme Court Justices and this case gave the Supreme Court a chance to interpret the fourteenth amendment.
The courts were re-determining the Betts vs. Brady case in which Supreme Court upheld the decision that the defendant was not entitled to a lawyer. Gideon changed this decision of the Supreme court and was granted a new trial on his argument that he should have had an attorney. The unanimous decision in favor of Gideon’s case has the Supreme Court send ten cases of appeal back to the Florida State Supreme Court ordering that court to reconsider those cases in light of Gideon vs. Wainwright. The, in Florida, Governor Farris Bryant calls on the legislature to enact a “public defender law.”
The book “Gideon’s Trumpet” was very detailed in following of Gideon’s case. Examples were given at all the right points. I found that the author’s inclusion of how the lawyers proceeded with the case on their parts to be very compelling in the understanding of the views presented. I also liked the snippets of transcription of the cases as they held a mind’s eye view of the story. The book lacked in many parts the ability to keep the reader interested. While the story is good, sometimes parts were found to be numbing. Nonetheless the book gives great insight to histories effect on court proceedings today and gives better appreciation to the rights we as American citizens have. The movie didn’t have as much detail as the book. What it did have that the book didn’t was the nickelodeon ability to keep an audience interested in the story. The movie made all the right points of how effect the case was to the history of American government and it was well played by actors we all (most all) know. The line, “Well, I did” by Gideon has much more of an impact on screen than in the book. The ending lives you wondering more about the man behind the case and has you applauding his efforts. I would recommend the book to those who would enjoy a historical novel and the movie to those who may find the book daunting as I did.
The effect the case had on history was best described my Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1963 who was quoted saying that lawyers will continue to provide services to defendants even for out-of-pocket expenses just as the fourteenth Amendment promises.
Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis
Gideon’s Trumpet, the movie