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Law School Case Brief

Betts v. Brady - 316 U.S. 455, 62 S. Ct. 1252 (1942)


The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution applies only to trials in federal courts. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not incorporate, as such, the specific guarantees found in the Sixth Amendment, although a denial by a state of rights or privileges specifically embodied in that and others of the first eight amendments may, in certain circumstances, or in connection with other elements, operate, in a given case, to deprive a litigant of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The inmate was indicted for robbery. He requested that counsel be appointed. The state court judge advised him that it was not the local practice to appoint counsel for indigent defendants except in prosecutions for rape and murder. The inmate was found guilty in a bench trial and sought relief.


Does the Fourteenth Amendment requires that a defendant be appointed counsel at a trial for every criminal offense?




The court determined that the Fourteenth Amendment did not strictly require that a defendant be appointed counsel at a trial for every criminal offense. The inmate was not deprived of his liberty without due process of law because the Sixth Amendment guarantee of counsel only applied to trials in federal courts, and the Fourteenth Amendment did not incorporate that guarantee. There was no right to state-appointed counsel in every case in which a defendant, charged with a crime, was unable to obtain counsel. In most states, appointment of counsel was not a fundamental right, but was deemed a matter of legislative policy. Maryland defendants, such as the inmate, traditionally waived a jury trial, thereby trying their case before a judge who was in a better position to see that impartial justice was done.

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