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Law School Case Brief

Argersinger v. Hamlin - 407 U.S. 25, 92 S. Ct. 2006 (1972)

Rule:

There is nothing in the language of U.S. Const. amend. VI, its history, or in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, to indicate that it was intended to embody a retraction of the right in petty offenses wherein the common law previously did require that counsel be provided. The United States Supreme Court rejects, therefore, the premise that since prosecutions for crimes punishable by imprisonment for less than six months may be tried without a jury, they may also be tried without a lawyer. The assistance of counsel is often a requisite to the very existence of a fair trial.

Facts:

The petitioner, an indigent, was charged in a Florida state court with carrying a concealed weapon, an offense punishable by imprisonment up to six months and a $1,000 fine. Unrepresented by counsel, the petitioner was tried before a judge without a jury, was convicted, and was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail. He petitioned for the writ of habeas corpus in the Florida Supreme Court, but relief was denied on the grounds that the federal constitutional right to counsel extended only to trials for non-petty offenses punishable by more than six months' imprisonment. Petitioner sought certiorari review.

Issue:

Did federal constitutional right to counsel only extend to trials for non-petty offenses punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

Upon review, the United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that the right to counsel extended to any offense, whether classified as petty, misdemeanor, or felony, for which imprisonment would be imposed. Therefore, because petitioner was imprisoned after his conviction, he was entitled to court-appointed counsel during his trial. Because he was not afforded counsel, the denial of his writ of habeas corpus was reversed.

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