Friday, June 24, 2016

It All Begins With a Place

Panama City, Florida
March 30, 2010

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he or she has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if he or she is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent her or him.

United States Supreme Court, Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

This story, like all stories, begins with a place. It begins in the early morning of June 3, 1961 at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City, Florida. A robbery at the Bay Harbor Pool Room set into motion a row of legal dominoes that toppled all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The trial of Clarence Earl Gideon, who lived just down the street from and frequented the Bay Harbor Pool Room, who did not have the benefit of an attorney at his trial, and who pressed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, enhanced the right of Americans to counsel. Before 1963, each state determined if and when an attorney needed to be provided to a defendant and this determination could be applied selectively on a case-by-case basis. In 1963 the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright ruled that the right to the assistance of counsel was a fundamental right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and essential for a fair trial.

Almost 50 years later, the Bay Harbor Pool Room no longer exists. You would have found it at the northwest corner of Everitt Avenue and Cherry Street [1] in a neighborhood that is still today a blue collar community in the southeast corner of Panama City, filled with the smells of the nearby waterfront and industrial plants. The block is vacant with a portion used as a fenced parking lot for a nearby industrial plant, and it is at the south end of this parking lot where the Bay Harbor Pool Room sat.

There is no marker, no sign, no indication of any kind of the significance of this place and its role in United States constitutional law and the right to counsel. One can stand today at the side of the street to the now forgotten Bay Harbor Pool Room, close their eyes, and imagine the morning of June 3, 1961, then realize how the events emanating from a single place during a small window of time can influence the lives of Americans for generations to come.

The northwest corner of Everitt Avenue and Cherry Street
Bay Harbor Pool Room was located at far end of the fenced parking lot

Site of the Bay Harbor Room
Google Street View (©2016 Google Street View), June 2011

[1] The location of the Bay Harbor Pool Room is from a map of the community of Bay Harbor in an article by Bruce R. Jacob in the Iowa Law Review. Bruce R. Jacob, The Gideon Trials, 99 Iowa L. Rev. 2059, 2096 (2014)


  1. It is a shame that this small, concrete block building could not have been acquired by the city, and returned to function for some purpose--best for preservation as a monument. When Clarence Gideon was buried without a headstone by his family, the ACLU contributed a monument with a quote from one of Gideon's letters to his SCOTUS appointed lawyer (Abe Fortas, later appointed as a Justice). Gideon's remark (paraphrased from my recollection): "In every era, the law finds an improvement for the betterment of mankind."

  2. Fragments of the pool hall can be found here and there. Brick shards and window glass.