A little over 50 years ago the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright.  Clarence Gideon was accused of burglary in the state of Florida. On the day of his trial he requested that the court appoint him an attorney to assist with his defense. The court denied his request and he appealed the case to the Florida State Supreme Court and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court.  In the courts decision, they ruled that the sixth amendment guaranteed the assistance of legal counsel to all who were accused of violating the criminal law.  This was a truly remarkable decision imposing an incredible financial burden on all of the states, counties, and districts across the United States. However, the story does not end here. Clarence Gideon’s case was sent back to the state of Florida and was ordered to be reminded for a new trial.  In a curious practice that is not followed today, Mr. Gideon was allowed to choose his own attorney, W. Fred  Tuner, and then the court appointed him to represent Gideon.  This is when the true magic of the Gideon v. Wainwright case began. His new attorney took the case to trial where he successfully attacked and called into question the eyewitness testimony and other salient facts. When the jury received the case for deliberation, it only took them about an hour to reach a verdict of acquittal.

Prior to this case, those who were financially able, we’re able to employ the services of private attorneys to represent them in their cases. One of the unforeseen consequences of this case however was that by requiring the creation of public defender offices and the hundreds and thousands of public defenders to represent indigent clients across the United States created a system where educated lawyers were providing legal counsel at a substantially cheaper rate. This, inadvertently, created competition for the private attorneys who were working at the time.   Under the most basic of economic analysis the increase in supply of criminal defense lawyers necessarily reduced the cost of hiring an attorney to provide private label criminal assistance.  The result being that is possible to hire an effective affordable attorney to assist you in your criminal case.

Today, any person who is accused of a felony offense is entitled to representation if they meet the financial criteria of being indigent. Practically, anybody who is below the poverty level or who can present to the court that the costs of hiring council would pose an unfair financial burden are entitled to the appointment of counsel. In misdemeanor cases, the same sixth amendment protections established in the Gideon case requires courts to provide indigent defendants with representation if they choose and if the state is seeking to impose jail time as a punishment or if the law requires jail time as a mandatory punishment for the offense with which they have been charged. An example of this type of an offense in Arizona would be the DUI cases which, at its most minimum punishment, requires at least a day in jail.  However, unlike Clarence Gideon, indigent defendants in the state of Arizona are not allowed to choose their own court-appointed counsel. They are pretty much stuck with the attorney the court appoints to represent them. As long as this appointed attorney does their job in a reasonable fashion and in compliance with the state ethical guidelines, the indigent defendants cannot request other counsel.

Deciding which attorney is going to represent you in your criminal case is in essential step in successfully resolving the case against you. Most attorneys, myself included, will offer a free consultation.  This consultation will allow you and the attorney to discuss the confidential matters of your case and allow the attorney to provide a cost for the proposed representation. If you are unable to afford this representation cost and are otherwise able to meet the requirements for indigency, then you can always request the court to appoint you an attorney.  If you are appointed a public attorney and are not happy with the representation that they are providing, it MAY be possible, if the case is not currently scheduled for trial or if the trial is far enough out to allow a new attorney time to prepare the case for trial, to substitute out your public defender in place for a private attorney.  Either way, the quality justice administered in the United States has greatly increased as a result of the decision in Gideon v. Wainwright.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Mesa Criminal Attorney, Garrett L. Smith at 480-540-6021 log on to www.mycriminaldefenselawyeraz.com, or contact an attorney in your area.