In modern society its hard for us to think that at one time you could go to trial by jury without a lawyer, It is ingrained into public knowledge that if you cannot afford a trial then you will receive a public defender to monitor you case. It seems logical to all of the younger generations that in order to adequately defend yourself you need a lawyer, or a good understanding of the judicial gobbledygook that must be strictly adhered to. Gideon’s trumpet does a great job at causing the reader some of the same problems that faced Gideon while petitioning the court. Many people may view this book as a triumph of the American judicial system. “How one man, a poor prisoner, took his case to the Supreme Court – and changed the law of the United States.” I however view this book as a tool, used to demonstrate the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the expanding bureaucracy. In this response I will omit the summary in an attempt to shorten the length, I will assume you have already read the book and are familiar with the case.
Gideon’s trumpet does a great job at causing the reader some of the same problems that faced Gideon while petitioning the court. A perfect example is in the first chapter when the court makes Gideon file for a “writ of cetori” instead of just asking the court to hear the case, I would think the majority of common people would have no idea what you were talking about if you mentioned these words to them as they aren’t even recognized by my spell check. This example is some of the judicial gobbledygook not to mention very strict formatting and distribution guidelines that must be strictly adhered to. Also with the advancement of technology and human rights “Even the availability of constitutional protections for the defendant, has increased, not lessened, the need for a lawyer.” (Lewis 108)
What this book actually did impress me on is how in depth Lewis went into the inner working of the United State Supreme court. “The Supreme Court of the United States is different from all other courts, past and present. It decides social and political questions that would never be put to judges in other countries.” (Lewis 12) Their system of selecting cases ensures a passive aggressive approach to politics with no questioning why specific cases get tossed. I once believed this case to be monumental, its not, what is monumental is the thousands of taxpayer dollars spent so inefficiently. “The treatment of the right to counsel issue is a fascinating example of how constitutional doctrine develops there, slowly, deliberately, case by case.” (Lewis 112)
Thousands of hours of every civics student studying this case and reading this book when it is such a “slam dunk” of a case. Jacob the state representative, argued that “the issue at hand was a state issue not federal, the current practice of only appointing counsel under “special circumstances” in non-capital cases should stand, that thousands of convictions could be thrown out if it was changed and that Florida has followed for 21 years “in good faith.” He literally argued that the law should remain the same because that is what had been done for the last 20 years. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have democracy. The hearing ended three hours and five minutes after it began that’s just enough time for both sides to present their case and the justices to debate for 15 minutes. Then the justices returned with a unanimous decision 9-0.
I am very familiar with this case having read this book twice now and had two contrasting opinions. I read it in 99′ in high school at the time I was a little ahead of myself and saw this story as a triumph of the American judicial system. I read it again and saw it in a completely different light. The reality of the story is a man was imprisoned for something he didn’t do from June 3, 1961 until the retrial took place on August 5, 1963. It amazes me to think that it is this difficult to change the law, when it is expanding human rights. I am absolutely terrified how it is so easy to change the law restricting our freedoms, but man sacrificing years of his life is just too much of a cost for this logical adjustment of the law. It is just plain logical that everyone wants a lawyer, even if you just use him as an assistant for research.
In the end it does offer some consolation that if you do get convicted of something that you may not have done, you can get a lawyer to get you off. If that doesn’t work you can then take it to the Supreme Court and get a re trial. It is nice that in the end Gideon gets his trial and gets acquitted, but if I were in his shoes I would be really upset that I had just spent a couple years in jail. Some things need to change with the times this was one of them, and the times they are a changing once again.