Sunday, September 16, 2012

Alabama v. Shelton case brief

122 S.Ct. 1764 (2002)

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

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.

:  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.

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.”
Dissent:  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.

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