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“Gideon’s Trumpet” by Anthony Lewis

“Gideon’s Trumpet” by Antony Lewis is a story about a man who stood up for his rights irrespective of common belief that his case was hopeless. He was accused of breaking into a poolroom in Panama City, Florida, with a purpose of committing a larceny. At this, people who knew him kept to a point that committing such an offence was not typical for him: ““[T]hose who had known him, even the men who had arrested him and those who were now his jailers, considered Gideon a perfectly harmless human being, rather likeable, but one tossed aside by life. Anyone meeting him for the first time would be likely to regard him as the most wretched of men” (Lewis, 1966). Gideon was nonetheless charged with this offence and in the course of his trial demanded an attorney which he was denied of. However, he did not give up and filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court being absolutely sure that the Constitution of the U.S. guaranteed him a right to have an attorney if he was not able to allow such himself; the court’s denial to provide him with counsel was regarded as violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S. Abe Fortas, an outstanding appellate lawyer was assigned to be Gideon’s attorney. The court agreed that an accused person had a right to demand a counsel and new trial was appointed for Gideon. Thirteen years after Gideon’s death the American Civil Liberties Union marked on Gideon’s grave: “Each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind” (Fridell, 2006) which means that once this person (Gideon) served as a catalyst for a significant change in the U.S. law. The subject of fighting for injustice was perfectly handled in this book for Gideon’s story is an example of persistence in fighting for the rights of people who believe in justice and are bold enough to bring the changes into the existing legislation.

When discussing Gideon’s case in more details, it should be mentioned that he was accused of a crime basing on the testimonies of the only witness who claimed that he saw Gideon at the locus delicti on the morning when the crime was committed. When Gideon was denied in counsel he had had to protect himself alone and, of course, lost the case. He was sentenced to imprisonment for the term of five years and from his cell he filed a suit against Louie L. Wainwright, the Secretary of Florida Department of Corrections, stating that his rights, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment (enforced by the Fourteenth Amendment) had been violated during the first trial. In the course of the trial which was held on March 18, 1963 it was admitted that getting an attorney is a fundamental right of an accused person; it was also pointed out that the Constitution of the U.S. did not divide crimes into capital and non-capital, and this being the reason, Gideon had to be provided with a counsel. After being guaranteed a counsel, Gideon was retried and acquitted. The case of Gideon v. Wainright can be considered a landmark case Supreme Court decision because it did not change the interpretation of law substantially. Though Gideon’s fight with injustice resulted in guaranteeing an appointment of an attorney to those accused of a crime who could not afford a counsel themselves, it did not introduce any new laws but just was a new case law on this issue. The matter is that “Gideon’s request for appointed counsel was denied on the basis that Florida law only appointed counsel for indigent defendants in capital cases” (Hensley, Hale, & Snook, 2006), which Gideon’s case was not. This makes it namely a landmark case.

Federal and state court systems are different in their structure and functions. Federal court system comprises numerous courts of appeal which deal with federal issues, bankruptcy courts, federal district courts, etc. Federal district courts exist in every state and they are formed by Congress; 550 federal district judges are appointed by the president to hear federal cases. The main roles of the federal courts are resolving disputes, properly interpreting the law and applying it to the criminals and protecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution of the United States. In contrast, state court system is independent from the federal court system. It deals with about ninety five percent of all the legal cases in the country; at this, some of the states may have single appellate court and others two-level courts. Each of the states has lower courts which deal with minor issues such as, for instance, cases concerning child custody or divorces (family courts) or those concerning real estate (probate courts). There also exist specialized courts which include justice of peace and magistrate courts. The main role of the state court system is to carry out trials on civilian matters and settle disputes between the citizens of the state.


Fridell, R. (2006). Gideon V. Wainwright: The Right to Free Counsel. Marshall Cavendish.

Hensley, T.R., Hale, K., & Snook, C. The Rehnquist Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. ABC-CLIO.

Lewis, A. (1966). Gideon’s Trumpet. Vintage Books.

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