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Gideon's Trumpet: How One Man, a Poor Prisoner, Took His Case to the Supreme Court-And Changed the Law of the United States
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Gideon's Trumpet: How One Man, a Poor Prisoner, Took His Case to the Supreme Court-And Changed the Law of the United States

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,179 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
A history of the landmark case of Clarence Earl Gideon's fight for the right to legal counsel. Notes, table of cases, index. The classic backlist bestseller. More than 800,000 sold since its first pub date of 1964.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1964)
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Matt
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
A lot of different things helped push me down the road to law school. There's that scene in The Verdict when Paul Newman tells Charlotte Rampling about justice("See, the jury believes. The jury wants to believe...All of them...say, 'It's a sham, it's rigged, you can't fight city hall.' But when they step into that jury box...you just barely see it in their eyes..."). There's also the (as yet unrealized) promise of financial security. Maybe the most noble motivator I had was Anthony Lewis's Gideo ...more
Russell
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
I read this book before I went to law school. It was supposed to be the inspiring story of how we all came to have the right to an attorney.

I thought it was dull and was actually the story of how a florida redneck who was arrested for burglary got in touch with a bunch of high powered attorneys with an agenda.

Appellate law is not interesting even when it is novelized.
Kressel Housman
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
For those who don't know, Gideon v. Wainwright was the landmark Supreme Court case that established the federal requirement for criminal courts to provide defense attorneys for the indigent. In other words, it's the reason we have public defenders today.

The case began when Clarence Gideon, a poor white man sitting in a Florida prison for petty larceny, wrote to the Supreme Court that his 14th Amendment right to due process of law had been violated because the court that convicted him didn't prov
...more
Frank Stein
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing

After reading this book, I understand why it has become a law-school staple for generations. First, and importantly, it's short, always necessary in book assignments. Second, it provides a concise and solid overview of how the Supreme Court "did its own work" in Brandeis's phrase (down to some now antiquated details, such as the dumbwaiter that carried briefs up and down in the head Clerk's office).

Third, and more importantly, the book puts real human stories at it's center. There is Clarence E
...more
Jocelyn
Jul 25, 2007 rated it liked it
No one today would argue against the fact that Gideon v. Wainwright had a positive impact on the legal system. People should have the right to an attorney and this book explains not only why, but also celebrates the fact that a poor prisoner could affect our law. In fact, "How one man, a poor prisoner, took his case to the Supreme Court-- and changed the law of the United States" sits over the title on the wonderfully designed cover of my edition of the book.

However, I got a strange feeling whil
...more
Catherine Woodman
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it


I have always been a reader, and whenever possible, I have tried to read what my children are reading. It started out with 'The Hungry Caterpillar', progressed to the Harry Potter series and now I am immersed in British Victorian novels and socio-political classics (which it turns out that I am no better at deciphering in my 50's than I was in my 20's) . So when my eldest son decided to go to law school, my husband and I encouraged him to read some of the recommended classics in the history of l
...more
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
The Law is never perfect. It's development is always detrmined by the thinking of the time. Once a principle is considered inapplicable at a certain stage of life, the experts are normally called in to give an opinion as to the relevance of it. This was the case when Gideon filed a motion at the United States Supreme Court arguing that his rights was infringed by a Florida court when he was denied Counsel during his criminal trial.

Abe Fortas, acting for Gideon had to translate his arguments int
...more
Tom
Dec 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
A very good read. Definitely gets one all rah-rah democracy and rah-rah constitution yet with nuance and thoughtfulness. Also, not one-sided as Lewis does a good job of showing Ass’t Attorney General Jacob as a sympathetic guy who really did believe that everyone has a right to counsel but ultimately believed more in states’ rights. I felt bad for the guy sending out a letter to all 50 states asking for an Amicus Brief to support Betts v. Brady but ending up getting Amicus Briefs from many of th ...more
Roger
May 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: law
"...Gideon is something of a 'nut,' [and:] his maniacal distrust and suspicion lead him to the very borders of insanity. Upon the shoulders of such persons are our great rights carried."

I'm a public defender for prison inmates. When I read the statement above in the epilogue, I was amused and relieved to learn that Gideon was a lot like many of my own clients.

kimberly
Nov 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lawyers, those fascinated by justice and the mysterious supreme court
Shelves: law-books
Often, I am discouraged with my profession. The slow-moving machinary of the judiciary is not perfect, but both Gideon and To Kill a Mockingbird remind me why I'm a lawyer. I wish I had read Gideon before starting my clerkship. For one reason, we had an entire right to counsel issue that I would have understood better after this book. Additionally, it discusses the role of a law clerk and how the judicial system works. Dude, this is more helpful than my staff attorney manual!
But most of all, I
...more
zltg
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: law, history
There is no illusion at all that Gideon is a hero or he did not owe his victory entirely to the legal and social momentum, which were outside of his control and already pointing to overturn Betts. But it is also worthwhile to remember the facts here, that man like him, an outcast at the very bottom of the society, had the tenacity and courage to pursue what he deemed just and not gave up hope. My eyes got wet when first looked at Gideon's pencil-written petition for cert on prison mail paper. Th ...more
Judy
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The news this week of the death of Anthony Lewis at age 85 was enough to send me scurrying to the bookcase to dig out my copy of Gideon's Trumpet and reread it. Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in Florida on a charge of breaking and entering and he was forced to represent himself at his trial because he couldn't afford an attorney. Gideon felt that this was a violation of his constitutional right to be represented by counsel and while he was in a Florida prison he sat down and wrote a petition ...more
Bob
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Of course I've known about Gideon vs. Wainwright since I was in high school in the 1960s, and I studied the case in law school and taught it in my Constitution and Law class - but I had never read Anthony Lewis' classic until now. In language that any reader can readily grasp, he not only paints a portrait of Gideon, the real human being whose criminal conviction was overturned, but he also provides an elegant perspective on the historical and legal evolution of the Supreme Court's thinking on t ...more
Marilee
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is on my son's AP Gov reading list. I got about halfway through it when my son commandeered it and inhaled it in two days. I finally snagged it back and finished it. It tells the fascinating story of a man in jail in the early sixties who had been denied representation in his original court case. He eventually worked his way to the Supreme Court and fought for man's right to counsel. It's a little dry at the beginning as it lays the foundation of the case and describes the members of the Su ...more
Emily
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, law
I didn't realize that this book was written back in the day until the author started talking about how SCOTUS is a bunch of old white guys. Anyway, I enjoyed the read overall and the occasional old-timey aside.

Public defenders in particular will appreciate the coda on Gideon's second trial, where he chose to go pro se on some pretrial motions:
- asserted that double jeopardy prohibited a new trial (it didn't)
- argued that the statute of limitations had run and second trial was unlawful (it wasn't
...more
Ted
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Terrific book. I had never read anything about our Supreme Court and this turned out to be a great start. This is a pretty incredible story about one man who, without the help of a lawyer, appealed his case to the highest court in the land and eventually won. The accused's right to a lawyer, and thus due process, would be considered as fundamental as any other. However, up until this case, states had a free hand to decide when an indigent defendant would be afforded one by the state. The author ...more
Diane
Jun 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: legal
I read this in preparation for a continuing legal education class which will involve discussion of the book. I was not looking forward to reading it as I suspected it would be very dry and difficult to plough through. It was actually a very easy read. The author wrote in a manner which would allow a lay person to understand the Supreme Court appellate process, and effectively personalized the Gideon v. Wainwright decision. I think this would be a great book for law students to read, and is also ...more
Stephen
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
I am going through bookshelves, clearing out for summer book sales at the two public libraries that I support. This may go into that bag! I read this the second semester of my first year in graduate school - at the start of a class in planning law - boring! That is all I remember, but I guess now that the SCOTUS is so much in the news, it is important to realize that this decision, Gideon v. Wainwright did more to change constitutional law than probably any other case. Something that certainly i ...more
Amanda
Mar 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Had to read as research for a loved one who's considering law. Recommended to me by a lawyer I respect. A great read for anyone considering law. Terrific story. If the reader is not a lawyer, it gets dry in the middle, but definitely plow through to the ending of the tale. All true. All heartening.
Stefani
Jan 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The first book I have read for law school since A Civil Action in 1L that wasn't a case book or supplement.

Whew. Law school should require more books like this. It is the story of how the right to representation for the indigent in all criminal cases was codified by the Supreme Court.

Somewhat uplifting, somewhat depressing.
Josh Davis
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An amazing account of the different that one man can make.
Ashtynne
Dec 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Gideon's Trumpet How One Man, a Poor Prisoner, Took His Case to the Supreme Court-And Changed the Law of the United States by Anthony Lewis
A Call For Justice and Due Process of Law For All Regardless of Wealth
In order for a civilized society to function properly, there must be laws regulating the influence of the government to ensure it does not overstep into the daily life of citizens. The Constitution, for example, has been the backbone of American society since its detachment from the monarchy in Britain. Only after 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, were Americans guaranteed “certain inalienable rights” like the free
...more
Walter
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: legal-theory
Many of us who are not attorneys tend to think of the law as the stuff of dusty bookshelves in the offices of lawyers and judges. But, in fact, all of us are affected by the law, and it is never a bad thing to learn a thing or two about how law is made and changed. In "Gideon's Trumpet", Anthony Lewis tells the compelling story about an indigent Florida prisoner who wrote a letter in pencil to the Supreme Court asking that his case be reviewed. The result of this process was the Supreme Court de ...more
Kim
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
For anyone interested in the process involved in overruling a Supreme Court decision, this is the book to read. Also recommended for anyone interested in the evolution of the right to counsel and other procedural due process rights. For 21 years, Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942), was the controlling decision of the Supreme Court granting the right to counsel of indigent persons only upon a showing of vaguely-defined "special circumstances." By 1963, the Court had been moving toward a re-evalu ...more
Danielle
Sep 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: die-hard gov/law fans
I thought this was an interesting recount of Gideon v. Wainwright, especially considering that it was published relatively soon after the actual trial.

Gideon isn't really a trial I would've chosen to read about on my own, but I learned a lot about the case, like how this instance of criminal rights was something that had the support of half the country, or how the respondent was only involved by name, and only after the case. It made me care about criminal rights, which I do care about, but not
...more
Liam
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"'It is not a needle we are looking for in these stacks of papers, but the rights of a human being.'" (quoting Illinois Supreme Court Justice Walter V. Schaefer, 36)

"The rule of special circumstances 'involves federal supervision over the state courts in its most noxious form. In effect, the federal courts are given a roving commission to scrutinize the proceeding in the state court to see if it is "shocking to the universal sense of justice."'" (quoting Fortas' brief on Betts v. Brady, 142)

"'It
...more
Stacy
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
A classic, though jarring to read today what with the time period-appropriate references to "Negroes," plus only referring to the "men" of the Supreme Court and legal profession. (Also weird to hear repeated references to how there was no specialized Supreme Court bar, since SCOTUS litigation is a definite specialty nowadays.) I can't help but compare how many of Gideon's legal arguments also apply to respondents appearing before immigration courts (with the added hurdle of often not understandi ...more
Christopher
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
While it is both frustrating and saddening to see what has changed, and what has stayed the same since 1989, Lewis' accounting of Gideon v. Cohchran, from its unlikely beginnings to its ultimate historical event as Gideon v. Wainright is clear and informative.

Gideon's Trumpet highlights the circumstances surrounding the famous verdict that few ever learn of-- the long and tortuous path of the Supreme Court (and the various state courts) towards a universal right to counsel, the Herculean effort
...more
Mike
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining account a watershed case with only a couple observations which are either dated or wrong. I don't think the Supreme Court practitioners are "mediocre" as claimed on page 47. I understand that the number of attorneys actually appearing before the court tend to specialize in this due to the highly particularized etiquette of argument. Lewis further claims that Justices are more interested in arguments which "stick to homely, factual arguments." Page 172. I have occasion to listen to a ...more
Chad Montabon
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the classics, a must read for Court watchers. Clarence Earl Gideon is not the most sympathetic character, but at least he was just a small time loser and not some sociopath saved by a technicality.

His story, by this book at least, demonstrates the importance of the rule of law. If he could find a way to stop the wheels of a legal system heavily weighted against him, then there is hope that the mightiest may also be held to account.

The writing is good, the 'legal procedure' is written in s
...more
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Anthony Lewis was an American intellectual and columnist for the New York Times.
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