Saturday, February 11, 2012

Alabama v. Shelton case brief

122 S.Ct. 1764 (2002)

-Shelton, D, is an indigent charged with a misdemeanor (third-degree assault) punishable by imprisonment, fine, or both, to the assistance of court-appointed counsel.  
-D was sentenced to a jail term of 30 days, which the trial court immediately suspended, placing D on probation for two years.  
-Court followed Scott v. Illinois (1979) in that counsel need not be appointed when the D is fined for the charged crime, but is not sentenced to a term of imprisonment.


Whether the Sixth Amendment right to appointed counsel, as delineated in Argersinger and Scott, applies to a defendant in D’s situation?


Yes. A suspended sentence that may “end up in the actual deprivation of a person’s liberty” may not be imposed unless the D was accorded “the guiding hand of counsel” in the prosecution for the crime charged.


Actual imprisonment:  a penalty different in kind from fines or the mere threat of imprisonment, and is the line defining the constitutional right to appointment of counsel in nonfelony cases.

Argersinger applies to Ds who receive suspended sentences rather than actual incarceration.  A suspended sentence is a prison term imposed for the offense of conviction.  Once the prison term is triggered, the D is incarcerated not for the probation violation, but for the underlying offense. The uncounseled conviction at that point results in imprisonment – the actual deprivation of a person’s liberty.  Deprived of counsel when tried, convicted, and sentenced, and unable to challenge the original judgment at a subsequent probation revocation hearing, a defendant in Shelton’s circumstances faces incarceration on a conviction that has never been subjected to “the crucible of meaningful adversarial testing.”

-A suspended sentence does not require the appointment of counsel because such a step does not deprive a D of his personal liberty.  Only if the sentence is later activated, need the Court ask whether the procedural safeguards attending the imposition of Shelton’s sentence comply with the Constitution. 

If you enjoyed this case, you may also enjoy our Criminal Law Outline

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