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50th Anniversary of Court Appointed Legal Council Celebrated at Capitol

The Texas Capitol celebrated the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright today, the Supreme Court case that determined courts have to supply legal counsel in criminal cases when requested.

Bruce Jacob, a professor at the Stetson University College of Law, presented the history at the Capitol Monday. Jacob was the Assistant Attorney General of Florida during the Gideon v. Wainwright case. He argued against Gideon, on behalf of Wainwright.

Today marks 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court requiring states to provide criminal defendants with legal representation if they cannot afford to provide their own.

The decision in Gideon v. Wainwright was announced on March 18th, 1963.

The anniversary was celebrated today at the Texas Capitol, with a presentation by Bruce Jacob, who in 1963, as the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, argued against the right to counsel in all criminal cases, in spite of his personal belief then or now.

“I believe that the Gideon decision marked a major turning point in our understanding of what has been due process in criminal cases,” Jacob said.

In 1961, Clarence Gideon was arrested and charged with burglary at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Florida. When he requested counsel, he was denied a lawyer and he was then found guilty of the charges. At the time, a judge did not have to provide a defendant with counsel in criminal cases at the state level, unless they are unable to defense themselves because of extraordinary circumstances, such as illiteracy.

Gideon appealed, and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. Jacob, who fought against Gideon’s case, said he was personally for changing the law to require courts to supply legal counsel in criminal cases when requested.

“Lawyers are trained to take either side of a case,” Jacob said. “It’s a tradition of the legal profession that a lawyer should be able to take a case even if he or she is personally not in agreement with the case.”

Jacob said the case made significant strides for defendants rights in the courtroom, and has impacted the greatly since.

“The Gideon decision marked a major turning point in our understanding of what has been due processing in criminal cases,” Jacob said.

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