The case was argued on January 15, 1963 and decided on March 18, 1963.
Facts of Gideon v. Wainwright:
While in prison, Gideon studied in the library and prepared a handwritten Writ of Certiorari that he sent to the United States Supreme Court claiming that he had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to an attorney:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense. (Italics Added)
The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren agreed to hear the case. They assigned Gideon a future Supreme Court justice, Abe Fortas, to be his attorney. Fortas was a prominent Washington DC attorney. He successfully argued Gideon's case, and the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Gideon's favor. It sent his case back to Florida to be retried with benefit of a public attorney.
Five months after the Supreme Court ruling, Gideon was retried. During the retrial, his attorney, W. Fred Turner, was able to show that the chief witness against Gideon was possibly one of the lookouts for the burglary itself. After only one hour's deliberation, the jury found Gideon not guilty. This historic ruling was immortalized in 1980 when Henry Fonda took on the role of Clarence Earl Gideon in the movie "Gideon's Trumpet." Abe Fortas was portrayed by José Ferrer and Chief Justice Earl Warren was played by John Houseman.
Significance of Gideon v. Wainwright:
Justice Hugo Black dissented and wrote the opinion that if you were indigent you had an increased chance of conviction. In Gideon, the court stated that the right to an attorney was a fundamental right for a fair trial. They stated that due to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, all states would be required to provide counsel in criminal cases. This significant case created the need for additional public defenders. Programs were developed in states around the country to help recruit and train public defenders. Today, the number of cases defended by public defenders is huge. For example, in 2011 in Miami Dade County, the largest of the 20 Florida Circuit Courts, approximately 100,000 cases were assigned to Public Defenders.