Gideon v. Wainwright

372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792 (1963)



The Sixth Amendment provides: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. The court construes this to mean that in federal courts counsel must be provided for defendants unable to employ counsel unless the right is competently and intelligently waived.


The inmate's charged offense was a felony under Florida law. He appeared in state court without funds and without a lawyer and asked the court to appoint counsel for him. The state court refused because only a defendant in a capital offense was entitled to appointed counsel. The inmate was convicted. He challenged his conviction and sentence on the ground that the trial court's refusal to appoint counsel for him denied him rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights


Did the trial court err in refusing to appoint a counsel for the Wainright?




The Court held (1) the Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused the right to the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions, (2) the court had construed the Sixth Amendment to require federal courts to provide counsel for defendants unable to employ counsel unless the right was competently and intelligently waived, (3) the court looked to the fundamental nature of the Bill of Rights guarantees to decide whether the Fourteenth Amendment made them obligatory on the states, (4) the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel is one of the fundamental and essential rights made obligatory upon the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and (5) Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942), was overruled.

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