One Person Can (And Did) Make a Difference . . .

I very much believe in the power of the individual to make a difference.  In this day and age of BIG government, BIG banks, BIG business seeming to call all the shots on how things gets done, stories like this help me keep the faith.

This article was written by Donald Applestein Esq. and published in Constitution Daily Smart Conversation about the Constitution on Mar 18, 2012.

 In the early morning hours of June 3, 1961, in Panama City, Florida, Clarence Earl Gideon was seen coming out of the Bay Harbor Pool Room with a bottle of wine, some cigarettes, and money stuffed in his pocket. He ran across the street to a phone booth, and a couple of minutes later a cab arrived and picked Gideon up.

A subsequent police investigation disclosed the pool room’s cigarette machine had been opened and money was missing. Hours later the police found and arrested Gideon. He was prosecuted and convicted of the breaking and entering as well as petty larceny. He was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary.

As he sat in jail, Gideon replayed his trial. At the start, he asked the court to assign him an attorney because he could not afford one. The trial judge denied his request. Gideon was troubled by the fact that the state of Florida had had an attorney but he had not. He thought it was unfair – un-American. And so he began his legal research.

He read that the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provided that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to … have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

Of course, it was the state of Florida, not the federal government, that had sent him to jail. But he also discovered that the Fourteenth Amendment stated, “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Gideon’s research showed that the Supreme Court had ruled in 1932 in Powell v. Alabama that criminal defendants had the right to the assistance of counsel – if it was a capital case. He understood that his was not a capital case, but it was darn important to him. He decided to petition the Florida Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, an order to release him. After the petition was denied, he sent a petition the U.S. Supreme Court? The Supreme Court granted his petition and assigned Abe Fortas (later to become an associate justice on the court) to represent him.

On March 18, 1963, nearly 44 years ago, the court ruled unanimously in Gideon’s favor. Justice Hugo L. Black wrote that the assistance of counsel was a “fundamental right,” essential to a fair trial. In a concurring opinion, Justice Tom C. Clark noted that the 14th Amendment did not restrict its rights to capital cases. The Supreme Court remanded, or returned, Gideon’s case to Florida, where he was retried. At retrial he was represented by W. Fred Turner, who hammered away at the eyewitness’s testimony. After an hour’s deliberation, the jury acquitted Gideon.

What can we learn from Gideon’s experience? First, don’t give up; be persistent. Second, under our Constitution and system of justice, one person can make a difference. So if someone ever tells you at election time that your vote won’t make a difference, remember Clarence Earl Gideon. You – one person – can make a difference for all of us.

Tight Lines . . .

PS:  please pass this around to others who believe . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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