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Summary of the Movie “Gideon’s Trumpet”

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Gideon’s Trumpet is the true story of a man named Clarence Earl Gideon, a semiliterate drifter who is arrested for burglary and petty theft. The book takes it’s readers back through one man’s moving account that became a constitutional landmark

Gideon’s Trumpet was written to recall the history behind the Gideon v. Wainwright court case and how it made such an enormous impact on United States law. On the night of June 3, 1961, Clearance Gideon broke into a pool room and smashed a cigarette machine and a juke box, taking some money from both and cigarettes. Later that morning a witness reported seeing Gideon break into the pool hall.

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Put to trial before a jury, Gideon conducted his defense about as well as could be expected from a layman. He made an opening statement to the jury, cross-examined the State’s witnesses, presented witnesses in his own defense, declined to testify himself, and made a short argument "emphasizing his innocence to the charge contained in the Information filed in this case." The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and petitioner was sentenced to serve five years in the state prison. Later, petitioner filed in the Florida Supreme Court this habeas corpus petition attacking his conviction and sentence on the ground that the trial court’s refusal to appoint counsel for him denied him rights "guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by the United States Government."1 Treating the petition for habeas corpus as properly before it, the State Supreme Court, "upon consideration thereof" but without an opinion, denied all relief. Since 1942, when Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 . . . was decided by a divided Court, the problem of a defendant’s federal constitutional right to counsel in a state court has been a continuing source of controversy and litigation in both state and federal courts. To give this problem another review here, we granted certiorari. 370 U.S. 908. . . . Since Gideon was proceeding in forma pauperis, we appointed counsel to represent him and requested both sides to discuss in their briefs and oral arguments the following: "Should this Court’s holding in Betts v. Brady . . . be reconsidered?"

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For the most part, after a long session in which the lawyers must answer many questions from the justices, it is over

Both sides return home and await the Court’s ruling. Gideon wins the case in a unanimous ruling. Following the decision, a massive upheaval of the American justice system takes place in which the states wrangle with the need to assign legal counsel to every defendant. Gideon wins a new trial and—after refusing help from an out-of-town attorney—he is assigned a local lawyer. He wins his freedom.

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