Former Vice President Mondale celebrates Gideon v. Wainwright
In case you missed, this morning, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale wrote a column for the Washington Post about the landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright. What you may not know is that in 1963 in his role as Minnesota’s State Attorney General, the former VP persuaded 23 other state attorneys general to sign a brief in favor of Clarence Earl Gideon.
In Florida, Mr. Gideon was charged with a non-capital felony. Mr. Gideon had no money and no attorney. He asked the Court to appoint an attorney for him, but his request was denied on the ground that state law appointed attorneys for indigents only in captial cases. Mr. Gideon represented himself and was convicted.
Mr. Gideon appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was held unanimously that under the 6th Amendment Mr. Gideon and other criminal defendants have a right to be represented by a court-appointed attorney.
The former Vice President’s column is not only a celebration of the decision for indigent criminals, but also a reminder to Americans to review our justice systems – both criminal and civil. He notes that the American Bar Association has “endorsed an expansion of the right to counsel to noncriminal matters where important legal rights, such as loss of housing, are at stake” and that “our justice system depends on the idea that everyone is to be treated fairly, but a lack of resources is affecting the progress the Gideon decision brought to our criminal justice system and is blocking progressive efforts to extend the right to counsel in certain civil cases.”