GPDC Celebrates 60th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright Decision

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Onward! The 60th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright

Georgia Public Defender Council is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright decision with a Public Defender Conference taking place March 16-18, 2023, at the beautiful Atlanta Evergreen Lakeside Resort located at 4021 Lakeside Drive, Stone Mountain, GA 30083.

This is an agency-wide conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of the landmark Gideon v Wainwright ruling – the reason the Georgia Public Defender Council works to zealously represent qualifying low-income residents who have been accused of a crime. The schedule will feature a luncheon and an inaugural program honoring several exemplary advocates and community stakeholders. The conference will also include plenary sessions, a keynote address, and informative video presentations. It is intended for defenders and staff at every level.

Registration for this conference is open to all state and county public defenders working for GPDC, including GPDC contractors. Conference registration is open through the start of the event. Check your GPDC email for details.

About Gideon v. Wainwright

March 18th marks the 60th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in which the justices unanimously ruled that defendants facing substantial jail time deserved legal representation, even if they could not afford to pay for counsel.

On June 3, 1961, five dollars in change and a few bottles of beer and soda were stolen from the Pool Room, a pool hall and beer bar in Florida. The owner also alleged that $50 was taken from the jukebox. Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested and charged with breaking and entering and larceny.

Mr. Gideon, uneducated in criminal law, criminal procedure, or the rules of evidence, was nonetheless denied counsel. The jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to serve five years in prison, the maximum sentence. From his jail cell, Mr. Gideon handwrote a letter to the Supreme Court asking the justices to review his case.

On March 18, 1963, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment guaranteed that Mr. Gideon and all others facing serious criminal charges have the right to a lawyer, whether or not they can afford to hire one. Writing for the Court, Justice Hugo Black noted that “lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.” Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 344 (1963). The Court reiterated that “[t]he right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel.” Id.

On re-trial with an attorney, Mr. Gideon was acquitted of all charges.

GPDC dedicates itself to the further and continued improvement of its public defense delivery systems consistent with the ideals of the right to counsel guaranteed by the United States and Georgia Constitutions as expressed in Gideon and its progeny.

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