Book Review: Gideon’s Trumpet submitted by Shoeb Amin


The book review category on the TF has not been used so far and i’d like to start with a review of a book I read recently. It is a book which is a “must read” for all students of law schools. This is a book about how a poor prisoner radically changed the justice system of the USA.

I hope more people will share their thoughts on what they have read recently; kind of have a virtual book club.

Shoeb Amin

Name of book: Gideon’s Trumpet

Author: Anthony Lewis

It is hard to imagine that as recent as 1962, if you were to stand trial for a felony and you were poor and could not afford an attorney, you had two choices. You either acted as your own attorney or you had to find a lawyer who would defend you pro bono.

And then came Clarence Earl Gideon. Gideon was a poor Florida man who had been in and out of jobs, in and out of jails, in and out of relationships and in and out of residences; essentially a bum. He was charged for illegally entering and stealing from a club. Being poor, he could not afford a lawyer. At his trial he asked the judge to appoint a lawyer for his defense; the judge refused based on the current State law. Gideon was convicted and sent to jail for one more time. From his jail cell he had the nerve to write a petition to the Supreme Court of the US. As luck would have it his petition – out of the hundreds received by the Supreme Court – was accepted. His case was assigned to a top lawyer, Abe Fortas, who took it on without getting paid.

The book describes the path Gideon’s petition takes in great detail from the secretary who opens the mail on through all the steps before reaching the Chief Justices, their deliberations, the oral arguments and finally their landmark decision.

The book is a great window into how the judicial system works; some may find it too technical. It describes how the law that was in effect until then came into being, how it had been challenged at both the appellate level and in the Supreme Court.

The law existing at the time offered the right to a “public defender” only in cases of murder and other major crimes, not for all felony cases. One of the main reasons it was not offered in minor felony cases was the worry that it would be too expensive. But those justices finally took the expense out of the equation and unanimously changed the law for all states to follow. Some fifty years later it is hard to imagine a citizen did not have a right that we now consider so basic. Could we be wondering the same 50 years from now that there were people who were trying to deny citizens another basic right – that of health insurance because it was too expensive?

All in all, Gideon’s Trumpet is a fascinating read.


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