Today marks the 56th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Hamilton v. Alabama. Hamilton stands for the simple proposition that the 14th amendment due process clause incorporates your sixth amendment right to counsel against the states, meaning you must be allowed to have a lawyer at your arraignment.
The case behind the Hamilton decision is stunning for the nature of the crime at the center of the case. In the mid 1950’s Mr. Hamilton was arrested and charged with Burglary with intent to Ravish which at the time was a capital offense. Mr. Hamilton, being indigent was unable to afford an attorney. This case occurred before the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright which guaranteed indigent people the right to counsel. As such, Mr. Hamilton was not given an attorney, and at his arraignment Mr. Hamilton plead not guilty.
Mr. Hamilton was found guilty, and sentenced to death at trial. Mr. Hamilton appealed his case arguing he was denied his 6th amendment right to counsel. His case was denied at the Alabama Appeals Court, and the Supreme Court of Alabama. Mr. Hamilton then appealed to the Supreme Court seeking a writ of certiorari. In 1959, Mr. Hamilton’s appeal was rejected exhausting his appeals on the issue.
As Mr. Hamilton’s death date approached, he appealed again. This time Mr. Hamilton argued that his 14th amendment due process rights had been violated when he was denied his right to counsel at his arraignment. At the time of Mr. Hamilton’s trial Alabama did not allow a Defendant to plead the insanity defense after his arraignment. Mr. Hamilton argued that the denial of his right to counsel had deprived him of the ability to make a valid defense in his capital case. Mr. Hamilton then sought a writ of certiorari on this issue which was granted in mid-1961.
The case was argued on October 17th, 1961. Mr. Hamilton argued that his 14th amendment right to due process had been violated when he was denied his 6th amendment right to counsel at a critical point in his trial which made it impossible for him to make a valid defense.
The State of Alabama argued that Mr. Hamilton had been denied his 6th amendment right to counsel, but he has not suffered in harm because he could have still raised other defense at trial.
The Supreme Court rendered its judgment on November 13th, 1961. Justice Douglas writing for a unanimous Court held that Mr. Hamilton’s right to counsel had been denied at a critical stage in his trial. This effectively denied him due process because he could not raise a valid defense because of the denial of his right to counsel. Thus Mr. Hamilton had his conviction reversed.
While this case has long since faded into legal history, its holding remains a ringing endorsement of the 14th amendment. You are guaranteed the right to counsel at all critical stages of your trial, including arraignment. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can ensure your rights are protected.
 Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52, 82 S. Ct. 157 (1961)
 Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792 (1963)