On Friday, September 20th, the Charleston School of Law and the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense sponsored a symposium, Gideon at 50: How Far We’ve Come, How Far to Go, at the Charleston Museum. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the symposium assembled 28 legal scholars and practitioners from across the country to “… discuss the evolution of public defense, the increasing demands on the criminal defense practitioner, the prospects for “civil” Gideon, and the challenges in adequately funding the Gideon promise.”
Arrested and charged with a felony in 1963 in Panama City, FL, James Earl Gideon requested the assistance of an attorney, asking that the court appoint an attorney as he lacked the funds to pay for one. When the judge refused, Gideon then told the judge that the Constitution required that he be provided with counsel. Again, the state of Florida denied his request, and he was convicted. Gideon appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and certiorari was granted. Abe Fortas, later Justice Fortas, was appointed by the Court to represent Gideon. He was assisted on brief by Abe Krash and Ralph Temple. After reviewing the facts and the history of the Sixth Amendment, the Court concluded that the Sixth Amendment was applicable via the Fourteenth Amendment to states and did require that criminal defendants have the right to counsel, overruling Betts v. Brady. The public defender movement then began.
At the symposium, American Bar Association President Elect, William C. Hubbard, opened with a brief discussion about the current state of indigent defense. Two morning panels then ensued with law professors, journalists, and practitioners discussing the impact of Gideon upon indigent defense and its current status. At noon, Abe Krash, the keynote speaker, spoke eloquently about the duty of attorneys to ensure that a just society exists. Afternoon panelists then discussed the uncertain future of Gideon. South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Jean Hoefer Toal opened the last panel of the day with an introductory speech about funding the right to counsel. Portions of the symposium will be posted on the law school’s Professionalism Series website.