Everyday people around the nation are brought to trial. The litigants may or may not have sufficient resources, but are still entitled to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment. Clarence Earl Gideon was accused of felony by the state of Florida and did not have the money for attorney representation. Instead, Gideon had to approach the Florida court system blinded by the rules of litigation and unaware of the processes of making an argument. He was helpless and could not win the battle, eventually being sentenced to five years in prison.
In America, people are supposed to be treated equal in the eyes of the law, yet Gideon’s circumstance was unjust. As he ultimately reached the Supreme Court of the United States, Gideon was given an attorney. However, here he challenged the state of Florida for his rights. According to Marc Galanter, there is no way that Gideon should have won the appeal in the Supreme Court. Gideon was a one-shooter, lacking resources. Despite Gideon’s loss in the state court, he still won his appeal in federal court system, shaping the law to impact society and showing that “the haves” do not “always come out ahead”.
The “logic of the triad” is created with the basic function of resolving disputes in an orderly and efficient manner, applying the “rule of law”. The rule of law is “the norm or expectation that legal disputes will be resolved by pre-existing rules and procedures, regardless of the status of individual litigants”. Gideon’s status was not too desirable, both socially as a poor man and legally as a felon. With the Betts v. Brady (1942) ruling, litigants were guaranteed counsel under “special circumstances” (Gideon 8).
Gideon, however, was really not a “special circumstance” if the rule of law is supposed to disregards status. Gideon was deprived of a lawyer. His inability to effectively communicate with the court brought him to an unjust disadvantage. Gideon’s opponent, being the state of Florida, caused further implications and drawbacks. Galanter sees various advantages of the repeat players, such as the Florida State Court, which allow them to come out ahead. Their past experience and extensive access to resources gives them a persuasive edge in the courts.
Gideon, on the other hand, worked against his shortcomings as a one-shooter. By filing a writ of certiorari, which the Court granted, Gideon was issued Abes Fortas as his lawyer. According to Galanter, “lawyers are themselves RPs” (Galanter 167). This representation was valuable because of past experiences and specialization that Fortas brought forth to the Court and to his client. Being that “the Court naturally tends to pick men known to one or more of the justices personally or by reputation,” Gideon slowly gained an advantage (Gideon 49).
This established a sense of equality and provided more power and credibility to the initiator. On the other hand, Florida did have its Attorney General representing the state, in order to defend and withhold the power of the state. The lawyer-client relationship was much stronger between the federal and state court, rather than Fortas and Gideon. After all, the closer a relationship is the “more telling the advantages of accumulated expertise and guidance in overall strategy” (Galanter 205). Furthermore, Gideon did not have the money or even the ability to sway the public.
Today, the media tends to lend support to the smaller party, which influences public opinion and plays a large role in persuading a judge’s values and deciding a case. Judicial decision-making is often difficult as judges decide on the steps towards resolve. The Court can take the literal meaning of the law or constitutional intent of the framers. Historical background or precedent can lead to outcomes, along with the values of the particular judge in the current political climax. At the time of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), there was a Dynamic Court view.
The Civil Rights Movement was taking place and dramatic changes were established and incorporated into law. At the time, the judges were very anti-majoritarian, paying more attention to the smaller groups with legitimate claims. In addition, the Supreme Court judges were willing to ignore precedent and institute new just laws, with the help of high policy-making degrees. Life tenure did tend to play a significant role, as federal judges did not have to fear the loss of their seat in the Supreme Court (Cover 22). Decisions could be made that would expand civil liberties for the betterment of society.
A prime example is the controversial Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which overturned Plessey v. Ferguson, stating that “separate but equal is inherently unequal”. With a Dynamic Court view and respectable legal representation, you can say that there was a way for the “have not” to come out ahead. In the end, Gideon was victorious. On the contrary, you could argue that Gideon did have the resources. After all, Abe Fortas was a strong, reputable lawyer, who knew the rules and strategies of litigation. Furthermore, he had the Dynamic Court on his side.
Gideon also had the ability to cause a great expense to the government (which is technically backed by the people) in order to hear his case. The reality is that Gideon was not provided with the resources in the beginning. When first in court, immediately after being charged with breaking and entering with the intent to commit petty larceny, he was not provided with representation. Florida law did not permit appointment of counsel in a non-capital case and did not require such appointment. Gideon was defenseless, while all he knew and could argue was, “That wasn’t law” (Gideon 103).
Gideon had to work his way through the justice system, before receiving some aid that could sell his argument to the Supreme Court. Justice Harlem said, “A good argument may in many cases make the difference between winning and losing, no matter how good the briefs are” (Gideon 107). He was a “have not”. Even with a lawyer, he still was inferior to the representation and support of the state of Florida. However, the true value of the trial was essential. Today, the Sixth Amendment provides us with a fair trial where every litigant has the right to counsel; including the right to have an effective counsel.
Granted there was an established change in the Constitution, there was also societal change. Where would all the lawyers come from, if everyone, including an indigent, is entitled to one? Changes in laws impact society. Promptly in 1963, a bill emerged from the House of Representatives to compensate for lawyers (Gideon 206). Where does all this money come from? Taxpayers. So there obviously is a price for freedom and civil liberties. In theory, citizens of America have to pay for other people, such as criminals, felons, and murderers to go to court.
Then in theory, neither the “have” nor the “have not” actually “comes out ahead”. Yet, in the long run, the more laws become specific and detailed, the less there are misunderstandings. The Constitution is vague in many instances, exposing it to a variety of interpretations. For instance, to this day gun control remains an issue, based on the poor clarity of the Second Amendment. In Gideon’s case, uncertainty lied in the due process and equal protection clause. Through changes in law, society becomes more organized and liberties are clearly defined, causing less chaos.
By enabling the “have not” to come out ahead, we are not only strengthening the American culture, but are providing America with a larger sense of freedom and value. This is a “land of opportunity”, a place where change can take place; whether it is done by large groups of people, or just one individual. Gideon was a felon with no wealth or power, yet he rose to the challenges of the American Court system and fought for change. He started out with nothing but an unpersuasive argument, which in the end, resulted in the creation of a new civil right. No matter what the price, America cannot give up its liberty or equality.
It has to stay strong and adapt laws to societal changes. The power of the pen sets precedents. Even though we are challenged by our differences and our diversity, each individual has the ability to make a difference. Each “have not” has the potential of sparking a change and undoubtedly, coming out ahead.
Work Cited Page
1. Cover, Robert, Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process (1995), pp1-7. 2. Galanter, Marc, “Why the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead,” The Structure of Procedure, 1974, pp199-211. 3. Lewis, Anthony, Gideon’s Trumpet, Random House, New York, 1964.