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Right to Assistance of Legal Counsel

It is a constitutional right of every accused person to have a fair criminal trial of accusations filed against him. Many accused persons are convicted due to lack of a fair trial. An individual has a right to be represented by counsel of his or her choice in both civil and criminal cases unless the accused or the defendant expresses to his or her constitutional right to appear for his or herself. Historically, persons who could not afford the fees of legal counsel were tried without any representation. This resulted in an unfair advantage over the accused. Today, courts consider such trials as patently unfair. The landmark case the changed the Court’s view is Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963).

In this case, Clarence Earl Gideon was unable to afford the fees of legal counsel to represent him before the Florida State Court. He requested that the court appoint him legal counsel. The court denied the request stating that under State laws the court is allowed to appoint a counsel only in cases of capital offenses. Gideon had no other choice but to defend himself in court. Since he was a layperson, his defense was not very effective. Gideon was subsequently convicted and imprisoned. He filed for writ of habeas corpus before the State Supreme Court stating that his conviction was in violation of the United States Constitution. The State Supreme Court denied habeas corpus to him. Gideon subsequently appealed his conviction to the United States Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court reversed the order of lower courts. The Court ruled that the right to be heard includes the right of an accused to be assisted by legal counsel. The Court’s ruling referenced sections of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Further, the Court ruled that the right of an accused to be assisted by legal counsel is a fundamental right guaranteed by due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hence, depriving the accused the right to assisted by legal counsel is depriving him of his life and liberty guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. Additionally, such violation deprives the accused his right to a fair trial.

Moreover, the Court rejected the reasoning of the lower court that the court can appoint legal counsel only in capital offenses. The Court ruled that since the right of the accused to be heard is a fundamental right, the same shall be applicable to all cases. The United States Constitution does not make any distinction between capital and non-capital offenses. While deciding this matter the Court considered that the accused is a layman who is not familiar with legal proceedings and will require legal assistance from counsel at every step of the proceeding. Therefore, legal assistance was mandatory to ensure that Gideon receives a fair criminal trial.

If you are facing a criminal trial contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York. We will review your criminal charges thoroughly, providing you with an outline of possible actions you may wish to take. We are ready to be your voice for justice.