The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors declared the week of March 13, 2023 "Public Defense Recognition Week." The date is significant because it marks the anniversary of one of the most impactful legal cases in American history. It's a case that recognized that Americans have the right to a defense attorney even if they cannot afford it.
Clarence Earl Gideon had an 8th grade education and ran away from home when he was 14. He lived his life in poverty and served several prison terms for offenses such as robbery, burglary, and theft. On June 3, 1961, he was accused of stealing $50 and several bottles of beer and soda from a pool hall. His request for counsel was denied by the judge, on the basis that counsel was only afforded for death penalty cases. He was convicted and sentenced to the maximum term of five years.
Mr. Gideon sat in a Florida jail cell and wrote to the FBI and then to the Florida Supreme Court. He was denied assistance. He asked the United States Supreme Court to take his case. The Court accepted and counsel was assigned to represent Mr. Gideon in argument to Supreme Court. The result, is Gideon v. Wainwright, the March 18, 1963 landmark decision resulting in appointment of counsel to those accused of criminal offenses who are unable to afford representation. Clarence Gideon did not start on his quest with a goal of changing the entire criminal justice system. He fought for the principle that he deserved counsel, never knowing that millions of individuals would receive the benefit of appointed counsel as a result of his efforts.
Sixty years later, Gideon is celebrated as a tribute to the fight and spirit of one man who refused to give up, and whose efforts resulted in significant expansion of the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel. In Maricopa County, our Public Defense Services team, comprised of the respective offices of the Public Defender, the Legal Defender, the Legal Advocate, the Public Advocate, and the Office of Contract Counsel, provide representation to the indigent. Within each department the attorneys and staff work together to advocate for their clients, to help them navigate a complex legal system, and to fight for their constitutional rights.
In honor of Gideon, our Board proclaimed the week of March 13, 2023 as Public Defense Recognition Week.