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Competent Counsel with Adequate Resources
By Anthony Lewis
There could hardly be anything more familiar to criminal defense lawyers
than the story of Clarence Earl Gideon. A drifter and ex-convict,
seemingly the least influential of men, he insisted against all the odds
that the Constitution of the United States entitled him to a lawyer at
state expense when he was charged with breaking and entering the Bay
Harbor Poolroom in Panama City, Florida. Without a lawyer, he was
convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He wrote a letter from
prison to the Supreme Court, and on March 18, 1963, the Court overruled
its earlier decisions and held that there could be no fair trial in a
serious criminal case without a right to counsel for the defendant.
“This seems to us to be an obvious truth,” Justice Hugo L. Black wrote
in his opinion. But it is easy to overlook the obvious — to forget what a
difference a lawyer can make. So I found when I watched the filming of a
movie based on my book, Gideon’s Trumpet. The producers
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