The Right to Counsel the United States

Subject: Law
Pages: 4
Words: 829
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

In the US, the right to counsel is protected by the fifth and sixth constitutional amendments. According to these amendments, every defendant has a right to be represented by a lawyer. When a defendant cannot afford to hire a counsel, the government should meet his or her legal expenses (Tomkovicz, 2002). In the US, the right to counsel was formulated in the early 1930s. During this period, the right to counsel was only limited to capital offences. However, in the year 1963 the US court acknowledged the need to extend the right to counsel to cover on all state crime proceedings (Vile, 2010). This paper seeks to analyze two cases involving the right to counsel in the US legal history.

Gideon verses Wainwright case

Argued on January 1963 and heard on March on the same year, Gideon verses Wainwright case is considered as a major milestone in the US legal history. Gideon had been sentenced by a Florida court for intending to commit a crime. Under the US laws, this act is classified as a felony. During the court sessions, Gideon requested the government to hire him an attorney since he had no funds to hire one. Following his requests, the court rejected his plea because the US courts were only mandated to allow the accused to be represented by the counsel if he or she was faced by a capital offense. In spite of this, the defendant insisted that he was permitted by the sixth amendment to be represented by an attorney. During the court sessions, the defendant had to defend his innocence. As a nonprofessional, Gideon laid emphasis on his innocence by presenting witnesses to testify against his accusations. Despite of his relentless efforts, the court ruled that the accused was liable for the crimes alleged against him. Following this, the accused was to serve a 5-year jail term.

Later on, Gideon filed a petition before the Florida Supreme Court. In the petition, Gideon claimed that the court rulings were unconstitutional since he had been denied his legal rights to be represented by an attorney. Following his claims, the court reversed its ruling and assigned the accused an attorney to represent him. After being allowed the right to counsel, Gideon was exonerated. As a result of Gideon verses Wainwright case, the court reversed an earlier decision that only allowed the accused to be defended if he or she was illiterate, senile or faced with a complicated trial. The court argued that the previous decision was against the main goal of the right to counsel. Instead, the court asserted that the right to counsel allowed every accused individual to have a fair trial by being represented by a counsel. Similarly, through this case, the court maintained that it was unconstitutional to differentiate between felony and non-felony cases during the right to counsel trial cases. After the court decision, more than 2000 convicts were released under the grounds that they had been convicted wrongfully by being denied their rights to counsel.

Argersinger verses Hamlin case

Argued on the year 1971 and decided on the same year, Argersinger verses Hamlin case extended the right to counsel to all states through the 14th Amendment (Taylor, 2004). Petitioner, Argersinger, was facing felony charges for possessing a concealed weapon. Before a Florida court, the petitioner was convicted to 90 days in jail. During the court sessions, an attorney did not represent the defendant as required in the constitution. Later on, before the Florida Supreme Court, the petitioner filed a case claiming that his rights had been compromised when he was denied the right to counsel. As a result, the petitioner claimed that he had been denied a fair trial in the charges he was convicted in. Following his claims, the Supreme Court reversed the previous ruling stating that the accused could not be subjected to further imprisonment since he had not been granted a fair trial by being denied the right to counsel. Following this court ruling, a decree that allowed rights to counsel in proceedings related to felony cases was abolished. This statute was struck down owing to its unequal protections of non-felony convicts. Through this, the court did not only ban the procedure of classifying non-felony and felony offenses, but also abolished discriminatory laws that extended dissimilarity between sentences imposing detention and fines.

In the two cases, the accused exercised their right to self-representation. Despite being denied the right to counsel, Gideon emphasized on his innocence by availing witnesses to testify against his case. On the other hand, Argersinger denied all the accusations against him, and requested the court to exonerate him because he believed he was innocent.

From the two cases, the roles of lawyers in representing the defendants are eminent. As such, the attorneys are mandated to advise the accused on several legal issues, ensure that the accused constitutional rights are safeguarded, and crosscheck evidences and allegations raised before the courts to ascertain their validity (Savage & Biskupic, 2004).


Savage, D. G., & Biskupic, J. (2004). Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Taylor, J. B. (2004). The right to counsel and privilege against self-incrimination: rights and liberties under the law . Santa Barbara, Cali.: ABC-CLIO.

Tomkovicz, J. J. (2002). The right to the assistance of counsel a reference guide to the United States Constitution . Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Vile, J. R. (2010). A companion to the United States Constitution and its amendments (5th ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger.