There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.
—Hugo Black, U.S. Supreme Court
Fifty years ago, Clarence Earl Gideon was charged with breaking into a pool hall. He could not afford a lawyer to defend him in court, and after a hasty trial, he was convicted. Had Gideon accepted his fate, he’d have been imprisoned for five years. But Gideon did challenge his conviction — all the way to the Supreme Court. The result was the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, which guarantees poor defendants the right to counsel in criminal cases. Weaving the story of this iconic case with contemporary portraits of legal injustice, the film Defending Gideon highlights the importance of a system that guarantees representation for all—and the dire consequences when that system fails.
Defending Gideon, narrated by actor Martin Sheen, features interviews with many who were there at the time: Retired Arnold & Porter LLP attorney Abe Krash, Bruce Jacob (who represented Florida in the case and who is now a leading advocate for reform), Walter Mondale (who, as Minnesota Attorney General, organized an amicus brief in Gideon’s favor), and Anthony Lewis, long-time New York Times columnist and author of Gideon’s Trumpet.
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