On March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel was a fundamental right that applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. “That government hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the widespread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries. 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.” 372 U.S. 335, 344 (1963)
In overturning Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, the Court ruled “…[W]e but restore constitutional principles established to achieve a fair system of justice. Not only these precedents, but also reason and reflection, require us to recognize that, in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” 372 U.S. 335, 343 (1963).
Gideon, indigent and charged with burglary, a felony under Florida law, requested that an attorney be appointed to defend him. After his request was denied, Gideon represented himself but was convicted. Florida law at the time limited appointment to capital cases only. Gideon filed a writ of habeas corpus with the state supreme court, which was denied; he then filed with the Supreme Court. The Court appointed Abe Fortas as counsel to represent him on the appeal.
Gideon wrote all of his court documents in pencil on prison stationary.