CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
MR. JUSTICE CLARK,
concurring in the result.
Charged in a Florida State Court with a noncapital felony, petitioner appeared without funds and without counsel and asked the Court to appoint counsel for him; but this was denied on the ground that the state law permitted appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in capital cases only. Petitioner conducted his own defense about as well as could be expected of a layman; but he was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Subsequently, he applied to the State Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that his conviction violated his rights under the Federal Constitution. The State Supreme Court denied all relief. Held: The right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner's trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, overruled. Pp. 336-345.
A brief for the state governments of twenty-two States and Commonwealths, as amici curiae, urging reversal, was filed by Edward J. McCormack, Jr., Attorney General of Massachusetts, Walter F. Mondale, Attorney General of Minnesota, Duke W. Dunbar, Attorney General of Colorado, Albert L. Coles, Attorney General of Connecticut, Eugene Cook, Attorney General of Georgia, Shiro Kashiwa, Attorney General of Hawaii, Frank Benson, Attorney General of Idaho, William G. Clark, Attorney General of Illinois, Evan L. Hultman, Attorney General of Iowa, John B. Breckinridge, Attorney General of Kentucky, Frank E. Hancock, Attorney General of Maine, Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, Thomas F. Eagleton, Attorney General of Missouri, Charles E. Springer, Attorney General of Nevada, Mark McElroy, Attorney General of Ohio, Leslie R. Burgum, Attorney General of North Dakota, Robert Y. Thornton, Attorney General of Oregon, J. Joseph Nugent, Attorney General of Rhode Island, A. C. Miller, Attorney General of South Dakota, John J. O'Connell, Attorney General of Washington, C. Donald Robertson, Attorney General of West Virginia, and George N. Hayes, Attorney General of Alaska.
Robert Y. Thornton, Attorney General of Oregon, and Harold W. Adams, Assistant Attorney General, filed a separate brief for the State of Oregon, as amicus curiae.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner was charged in a Florida state court
with having broken and entered a poolroom with intent to commit
a misdemeanor. This offense is a felony under Florida law. Appearing
in court without funds and without a lawyer, petitioner asked
the court to appoint counsel for him, whereupon the following
colloquy took place:
"The COURT: Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint Counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint Counsel to defend you in this case.
"The DEFENDANT: The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by Counsel."
Put to trial before a jury, Gideon conducted
his defense about as well as could be expected from a layman.
He made an opening statement to the jury, cross-examined the State's
witnesses, presented witnesses in his own defense, declined to
testify himself, and made a short argument "emphasizing his
innocence to the charge contained in the Information filed in
this case." The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and petitioner
was sentenced to serve five years in the state prison. Later,
petitioner filed in the Florida Supreme Court this habeas corpus
petition attacking his conviction and sentence on the ground that
the trial court's refusal to appoint counsel for him denied him
rights "guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
by the United States Government." 1
Treating the petition for habeas corpus as properly before it,
the State Supreme Court, "upon consideration thereof"
but without an opinion, denied all relief. Since 1942, when Betts
v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, was decided by a divided Court, the problem
of a defendant's federal constitutional right to counsel in a
state court has been a continuing source of controversy and litigation
in both state and federal courts. 2
To give this problem another review here, we granted certiorari.
370 U.S. 908. Since Gideon was proceeding in forma pauperis, we
appointed counsel to represent him and requested both sides to
discuss in their briefs and oral arguments the following: "Should
this Court's holding in Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, be reconsidered?"
The facts upon which Betts claimed that he
had been unconstitutionally denied the right to have counsel appointed
to assist him are strikingly like the facts upon which Gideon
here bases his federal constitutional claim. Betts was indicted
for robbery in a Maryland state court. On arraignment, he told
the trial judge of his lack of funds to hire a lawyer and asked
the court to appoint one for him. Betts was advised that it was
not the practice in that county to appoint counsel for indigent
defendants except in murder and rape cases. He then pleaded not
guilty, had witnesses summoned, cross-examined the State's witnesses,
examined his own, and chose not to testify himself. He was found
guilty by the judge, sitting without a jury, and sentenced to
eight years in prison. Like Gideon, Betts sought release by habeas
corpus, alleging that he had been denied the right to assistance
of counsel in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Betts was
denied any relief, and on review this Court affirmed. It was held
that a refusal to appoint counsel for an indigent defendant charged
with a felony did not necessarily violate the Due Process Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment, which for reasons given the Court
deemed to be the only applicable federal constitutional provision.
The Court said:
"Asserted denial [of due process] is to be tested by an appraisal of the totality of facts in a given case. That which may, in one setting, constitute a denial of fundamental fairness, shocking to the universal sense of justice, may, in other circumstances, and in the light of other considerations, fall short of such denial." 316 U.S., at 462.
Treating due process as "a concept less
rigid and more fluid than those envisaged in other specific and
particular provisions of the Bill of Rights," the Court held
that refusal to appoint counsel under the particular facts and
circumstances in the Betts case was not so "offensive to
the common and fundamental ideas of fairness" as to amount
to a denial of due process. Since the facts and circumstances
of the two cases are so nearly indistinguishable, we think the
Betts v. Brady holding if left standing would require us to reject
Gideon's claim that the Constitution guarantees him the assistance
of counsel. Upon full reconsideration we conclude that Betts v.
Brady should be overruled.
The Sixth Amendment provides, "In all
criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . .
to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." We have
construed this to mean that in federal courts counsel must be
provided for defendants unable to employ counsel unless the right
is competently and intelligently waived. 3
Betts argued that this right is extended to indigent defendants
in state courts by the Fourteenth Amendment. In response the Court
stated that, while the Sixth Amendment laid down "no rule
for the conduct of the States, the question recurs whether the
constraint laid by the Amendment upon the national courts expresses
a rule so fundamental and essential to a fair trial, and so, to
due process of law, that it is made obligatory upon the States
by the Fourteenth Amendment." 316 U.S., at 465. In order
to decide whether the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel is
of this fundamental nature, the Court in Betts set out and considered
"relevant data on the subject . . . afforded by constitutional
and statutory provisions subsisting in the colonies and the States
prior to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the national Constitution,
and in the constitutional, legislative, and judicial history of
the States to the present date." 316 U.S., at 465. On the
basis of this historical data the Court concluded that "appointment
of counsel is not a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial."
316 U.S., at 471. It was for this reason the Betts Court refused
to accept the contention that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee
of counsel for indigent federal defendants was extended to or,
in the words of that Court, "made obligatory upon the States
by the Fourteenth Amendment." Plainly, had the Court concluded
that appointment of counsel for an indigent criminal defendant
was "a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial,"
it would have held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires appointment
of counsel in a state court, just as the Sixth Amendment requires
in a federal court.
We think the Court in Betts had ample precedent
for acknowledging that those guarantees of the Bill of Rights
which are fundamental safeguards of liberty immune from federal
abridgment are equally protected against state invasion by the
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This same principle
was recognized, explained, and applied in Powell v. Alabama, 287
U.S. 45 (1932), a case upholding the right of counsel, where the
Court held that despite sweeping language to the contrary in Hurtado
v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884), the Fourteenth Amendment "embraced"
those "'fundamental principles of liberty and justice which
lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions,'"
even though they had been "specifically dealt with in another
part of the federal Constitution." 287 U.S., at 67. In many
cases other than Powell and Betts, this Court has looked to the
fundamental nature of original Bill of Rights guarantees to decide
whether the Fourteenth Amendment makes them obligatory on the
States. Explicitly recognized to be of this "fundamental
nature" and therefore made immune from state invasion by
the Fourteenth, or some part of it, are the First Amendment's
freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, association, and
petition for redress of grievances. 4
For the same reason, though not always in precisely the same terminology,
the Court has made obligatory on the States the Fifth Amendment's
command that private property shall not be taken for public use
without just compensation, 5
the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and
seizures, 6 and the Eighth's
ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 7
On the other hand, this Court in Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S.
319 (1937), refused to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment made
the double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment obligatory
on the States. In so refusing, however, the Court, speaking through
Mr. Justice Cardozo, was careful to emphasize that "immunities
that are valid as against the federal government by force of the
specific pledges of particular amendments have been found to be
implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, and thus, through
the Fourteenth Amendment, become valid as against the states"
and that guarantees "in their origin . . . effective against
the federal government alone" had by prior cases "been
taken over from the earlier articles of the federal bill of rights
and brought within the Fourteenth Amendment by a process of absorption."
302 U.S., at 324-325, 326.
We accept Betts v. Brady's assumption, based
as it was on our prior cases, that a provision of the Bill of
Rights which is "fundamental and essential to a fair trial"
is made obligatory upon the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.
We think the Court in Betts was wrong, however, in concluding
that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel is not one of
these fundamental rights. Ten years before Betts v. Brady, this
Court, after full consideration of all the historical data examined
in Betts, had unequivocally declared that "the right to the
aid of counsel is of this fundamental character." Powell
v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 68 (1932). While the Court at the close
of its Powell opinion did by its language, as this Court frequently
does, limit its holding to the particular facts and circumstances
of that case, its conclusions about the fundamental nature of
the right to counsel are unmistakable. Several years later, in
1936, the Court reemphasized what it had said about the fundamental
nature of the right to counsel in this language:
"We concluded that certain fundamental rights, safeguarded by the first eight amendments against federal action, were also safeguarded against state action by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and among them the fundamental right of the accused to the aid of counsel in a criminal prosecution." Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 243-244 (1936).
And again in 1938 this Court said:
"[The assistance of counsel] is one of the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment deemed necessary to insure fundamental human rights of life and liberty. . . . The Sixth Amendment stands as a constant admonition that if the constitutional safeguards it provides be lost, justice will not 'still be done.'" Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 462 (1938). To the same effect, see Avery v. Alabama, 308 U.S. 444 (1940), and Smith v. O'Grady, 312 U.S. 329 (1941).
In light of these and many other prior decisions
of this Court, it is not surprising that the Betts Court, when
faced with the contention that "one charged with crime, who
is unable to obtain counsel, must be furnished counsel by the
State," conceded that "expressions in the opinions of
this court lend color to the argument . . . ." 316 U.S.,
at 462-463. The fact is that in deciding as it did -- that "appointment
of counsel is not a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial"
-- the Court in Betts v. Brady made an abrupt break with its own
well-considered precedents. In returning to these old precedents,
sounder we believe than the new, we but restore constitutional
principles established to achieve a fair system of justice. Not
only these precedents but also reason and reflection require us
to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice,
any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer,
cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for
him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth. Governments, both
state and federal, quite properly spend vast sums of money to
establish machinery to try defendants accused of crime. Lawyers
to prosecute are everywhere deemed essential to protect the public's
interest in an orderly society. Similarly, there are few defendants
charged with crime, few indeed, who fail to hire the best lawyers
they can get to prepare and present their defenses. That government
hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire
lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the widespread
belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.
The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed
fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but
it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national
constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural
and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before
impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before
the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged
with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist
him. A defendant's need for a lawyer is nowhere better stated
than in the moving words of Mr. Justice Sutherland in Powell v.
"The right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel. Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law. If charged with crime, he is incapable, generally, of determining for himself whether the indictment is good or bad. He is unfamiliar with the rules of evidence. Left without the aid of counsel he may be put on trial without a proper charge, and convicted upon incompetent evidence, or evidence irrelevant to the issue or otherwise inadmissible. He lacks both the skill and knowledge adequately to prepare his defense, even though he have a perfect one. He requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him. Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence." 287 U.S., at 68-69.
The Court in Betts v. Brady departed from the
sound wisdom upon which the Court's holding in Powell v. Alabama
rested. Florida, supported by two other States, has asked that
Betts v. Brady be left intact. Twenty-two States, as friends of
the Court, argue that Betts was "an anachronism when handed
down" and that it should now be overruled. We agree.
The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded
to the Supreme Court of Florida for further action not inconsistent
with this opinion.
---- Begin EndNotes ----
1 Later in the petition for habeas corpus, signed and apparently prepared by petitioner himself, he stated, "I, Clarence Earl Gideon, claim that I was denied the rights of the 4th, 5th and 14th amendments of the Bill of Rights."
2 Of the many such cases to reach this Court, recent examples are Carnley v. Cochran, 369 U.S. 506 (1962); Hudson v. North Carolina, 363 U.S. 697 (1960); Moore v. Michigan, 355 U.S. 155 (1957). Illustrative cases in the state courts are Artrip v. State, 136 So. 2d 574 (Ct. App. Ala. 1962); Shaffer v. Warden, 211 Md. 635, 126 A. 2d 573 (1956). For examples of commentary, see Allen, The Supreme Court, Federalism, and State Systems of Criminal Justice, 8 De Paul L. Rev. 213 (1959); Kamisar, The Right to Counsel and the Fourteenth Amendment: A Dialogue on "The Most Pervasive Right" of an Accused, 30 U. of Chi. L. Rev. 1 (1962); The Right to Counsel, 45 Minn. L. Rev. 693 (1961).
3 Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938).
4 E. g., Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 666 (1925) (speech and press); Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 450 (1938) (speech and press); Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 321 (1958) (speech); Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 244 (1936) (press); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940) (religion); De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364 (1937) (assembly); Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 486, 488 (1960) (association); Louisiana ex rel. Gremillion v. NAACP, 366 U.S. 293, 296 (1961) (association); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963) (speech, assembly, petition for redress of grievances).
5 E. g., Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226, 235-241 (1897); Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 522-526 (1898).
6 E. g., Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 27-28 (1949); Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 213 (1960); Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 (1961).
v. California, 370 U.S. 660, 666 (1962).
© 1995 - 2014, Touro Law Center