Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

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Gideon v Wainwright, is a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court used the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to extend the constitutional right to an attorney in federal criminal cases for those who could not afford representation to indigent defendants in state prosecutions. The indigent defendant was represented gratis by future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. The ruling greatly increased the use of public defenders

The Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment providing that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy right to assistance of counsel for their defense is made obligatory on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. It was further held that the right of an indigent defendant to appointed counsel is a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial and denial of such a right would be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Through this case, the Supreme Court overruled its earlier decision in Betts v. Brady which denied counsel to indigent defendants when prosecuted by a state.

In 2002, the Supreme Court extended the rule and held that the right applied in all cases where jail time is a possible punishment.

[Last updated in December of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]