On March 18, 1963 the United States Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright. This landmark case held that the right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner’s trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
From the opinion:
[A]ny person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth. . . . From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.
Although this case relates to the criminal court system, there are efforts for similar protections for individuals in the civil court system. These efforts are often referred to as Civil Gideon.
The American Bar Association adopted a resolution in 2006 for Civil Gideon in instances when “basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction.”
Isn’t that a lovely birthday wish?
Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright!