UF Law celebrates 50 years of right to counsel

Published: September 30th, 2013

Category: News

jacob

Bruce Jacob, dean emeritus and professor of law at Stetson University, spoke at UF Law Sept. 19 on his victory in the Gideon v. Wainwright case in 1963. (Photo by Javier Edwards)

By Francie Weinberg (4JM)

Bruce Jacob, dean emeritus and professor of law at Stetson University, had the entire Martin Levin Advocacy Center courtroom laughing out loud from his recount of how he won the Gideon v. Wainwright case in 1963.

The symposium, commemorating 50 years of the right to counsel, was held Sept. 19 at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Speakers included Paul Rashkind, supervisory assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Florida, Carlos Martinez, public defender for the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, and Jacob as the keynote. The presentation also honored Professor Fletcher Baldwin’s 50 years of teaching.

Dean Robert Jerry kicked off the ceremony, honoring Baldwin with a speech recounting his numerous accomplishments and presented him with a plaque recognizing his years of teaching.

Rashkind presented a multimedia museum of pictures and video clips, taking attendees on a virtual tour through the Gideon v. Wainwright case.

Jacob’s story of the Clarence Gideon trial and all that ensued from it began in the Bay Harbor Pool Room with a case of breaking and entering. Gideon was arrested, could not afford to provide his own counsel and was found guilty. Gideon appealed, arguing that he had been denied counsel and, therefore, his 6th Amendment rights had been violated.

“I was the youngest in the criminal appeals office and the only one that had not yet argued in front of the Supreme Court,” said Jacob. “I think that’s why they picked me.”

Jacob worked vigorously, driving with his wife from Bartow to DeLand and Tallahassee every weekend to find information from various law libraries. After many months of preparation, it was finally time to face the Supreme Court.

“I felt like I was in a pit,” he said. “These justices seemed like they were sitting so much higher than in the Florida Supreme Court. The moment I began my argument there were questions. The intensity levels were high. I was caught in a crossfire and the questioning was brutal.”

The Supreme Court’s decision was announced on March 18, 1963. Gideon v. Wainwright overruled Betts v. Brady, and the assistance of counsel, if desired by a defendant, was a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution.

“Fifty years have passed since the court made its decision in Gideon, but have we made 50 years of progress?” Jacob asked. “The answer is a definite no. Under the current conditions, effective representation is just not possible.”

Problems include extremely high case loads, lack of public defenders and a shortage of time for proper investigations.

“We’ve waited 50 years and I sincerely hope we won’t have to wait another 50 years for the ideals of the Gideon case to be realized,” Jacob said. “Every defendant should be entitled to effective representation.”

The event was organized by UF Law’s Criminal Justice Center.