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Supreme Court Graphic Explainer: Ayestas v. Davis
Today it’s common knowledge that criminal defendants will be appointed a defense attorney. In 1963, Clarence Earl Gideon fought for that right. At the time, the law only provided a defense attorney in capital cases. Gideon represented himself against felony charges (entering a poolroom with intent to commit a misdemeanor) in state court and lost. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Gideon filed a petition for review called habeas corpus. A habeas petition is a claim of unlawful detention, a civil claim against the state agent holding the claimant in custody. The Supreme Court said Gideon was entitled to a government-paid attorney under the Sixth Amendment (Gideon v. Wainwright).
The next year, Congress passed the Criminal Justice Act. Indigent criminal defendants became entitled not only to an attorney but also to “investigative, expert, and other services necessary to an adequate defense.”