“The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Justice Black, speaking for the majority

This case explores the legal concepts of the right to counsel and due process.

In June 1961, a burglary occurred at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City, FL. Police arrested Clarence Earl Gideon after he was found nearby with a pint of wine and some change in his pockets. Gideon, who could not afford a lawyer, asked a Florida Circuit Court judge to appoint one for him arguing that the Sixth Amendment entitles everyone to a lawyer. The judge denied his request and Gideon was left to represent himself. He did a poor job of defending himself and was found guilty of breaking and entering and petty larceny. 

While serving his sentence in a Florida state prison, Gideon began studying law, which reaffirmed his belief his rights were violated when his request for counsel was refused. From his prison cell, he handwrote a petition asking the Supreme Court of the United States to hear his case, and it agreed. The Court unanimously ruled in Gideon’s favor, stating that the Sixth Amendment requires state courts to provide attorneys for criminal defendants facing felony charges who cannot otherwise afford counsel.



This section is for teachers.

Use the links below to access:

  • student versions of the activities in .PDF and Word formats
  • how to differentiate and adapt the materials
  • how to scaffold the activities
  • how to extend the activities
  • technology suggestions
  • answers to select activities  

About the Case


Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case


Teacher Resources

Teaching Strategies Used

Landmark Cases Glossary

The LandmarkCases.org glossary compiles all of the important vocab terms from case materials. It is provided as a view-only Google Sheet.

Glossary

Planning Time and Activities

If you have one day . . .

  • Read the background summary (•••, ••, •) and answer the questions.
  • Complete the Sixth Amendment Analysis if you have not yet studied the text of the Sixth Amendment.
  • Complete the Classifying Arguments Activity. Discuss which arguments the students find most convincing.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion and Key Excerpts from the Concurring Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have two days . . .

  • Complete all activities for the first day (excluding homework).
  • On the second day, complete the Document Analysis: Gideon’s Petition for a writ of certiorari activity.
  • In advanced classes complete the Judicial Opinion Writing Activity, or in on-level classes or middle school classes complete the Opinion Analysis activity.
  • Complete the Newspaper Analysis activity.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion and Key Excerpts from the Concurring Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have three days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first and second days (including homework).
  • On the third day, complete Right to Counsel: Quality of Representation.
  • In advanced classes complete the Right to Counsel: Quantitative Analysis, or in on-level classes complete the Cartoon Analysis activity.
  • For homework, complete the Inquiry-based Task: Will You Sign the Resolution?

If you have four days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first, second, and third days (excluding homework).
  • On the fourth day, complete Applying Precedents Activity: Alabama v. Shelton (2002)
  • Complete the Inquiry-based Task: Will You Sign the Resolution?
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