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Gideon v. Wainwright - 50 Years Later

Friday, April 12, 2013

  • John Heatly
  • Oklahoma County Bar Association

John HeatlyConjure up in your mind’s eye Henry Fonda’s portrayal of an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon in the 1980 made for television movie “Gideon’s Trumpet”. Setting down in his drab Florida prison cell, Gideon put pencil to paper and wrote out a Petition for Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a review of his conviction and five-year prison sentence for the burglary of a Florida bar and pool room. Gideon, a four-time loser, pled not guilty and asked the trial court judge for court appointed counsel. His request was denied as the presiding judge in the trial court was of the mind that Gideon could represent himself. The trial resulted in a conviction and a sentence of five years. Gideon’s Petition for Habeas Corpus against Wainwright, director of the Florida Department of Correction, was denied by the Florida Supreme Court.

In his Petition for Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, argued January 15, 1963, Gideon urged that he had been denied counsel and his rights had been violated.  Gideon’s Petition was granted on March 18, 1963, and a new trial ensued in the Florida trial level court where Gideon was represented by court appointed counsel. In the retrial, Gideon was found not guilty.  Gideon was freed after serving two years of the five year sentence in the Florida prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision granting Gideon’s Petition for Certiorari marks its 50th Anniversary on March 18, 2013.  Coinciding with this 50th Anniversary of this landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision is the 2013 “Campaign for Justice” by Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO).  Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt is serving as statewide chair of the 2013 Campaign.  Attorney General Pruitt will be working with OCBA Member Jimmy K. Goodman, chair of the Oklahoma City Campaign.  Also serving on the Oklahoma City team are other OCBA members including Luke Able, Steve Barghols, Chris Condren, Dan Couch, Kevin Donelson, Brian Garrett, Sharon Gentry, Sally Gilbert, Laura McConnell-Corbyn, Mike Mullins, Bill Paul, Dale Reneau, Robert Sheets, Jeremy Tubb and Elizabeth Scott-Wood.  Although no goal has been established for the 2013 Campaign, last year’s successful Campaign raised $828,000, the second highest amount ever in a one-year Campaign for Justice.

When you receive that request for contribution from the Campaign for Justice, keep in mind what happened fifty years ago when that obscure Florida convict, Clarence Earl Gideon petitioned the Supreme Court for relief from his conviction and five-year sentence. If the Supreme Court had not taken the time to look for merit in that one crude petition; the vast legal system would have moved forward functioning undisturbed.  Please thank Jimmy Goodman and his fellow team members for their hard work and efforts in raising money for this worthy and noble undertaking.

Article posted in the February 2013 Briefcase: A Publication of the Oklahoma County Bar Association

LASO 2013 Campaign for Justice


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