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Law School Case Brief

Scott v. Illinois - 440 U.S. 367, 99 S. Ct. 1158 (1979)

Rule:

The Supreme Court of the United States' decision in Argersinger delimits the constitutional right to appointed counsel in state criminal proceedings. Even were the matter res nova, the central premise of Argersinger, that actual imprisonment is a penalty different in kind from fines or the mere threat of imprisonment, is eminently sound and warrants adoption of actual imprisonment as the line defining the constitutional right to appointment of counsel.

Facts:

Aubrey Scott, an indigent defendant, was tried in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, without counsel having been appointed for him, and was convicted of shoplifting. Under an Illinois law setting the maximum penalty for first offenders at a $500 fine, one year in jail, or both, Scott was fined $50. The state intermediate appellate court affirmed Scott's conviction, and the Supreme Court of Illinois also affirmed, rejecting Scott’s contention that under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Illinois was required to provide trial counsel to him at state expense. Scott was granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Did the Constitution require a state trial court to appoint counsel where a defendant was charged with a statutory offense for which imprisonment upon conviction was authorized but not actually imposed?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the state supreme court's judgment. The Court held that its decision in Argersinger delimited the constitutional right to appointed counsel in state criminal proceedings and adopted actual imprisonment as the line defining the constitutional right to appointment of counsel. The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments required only that no indigent criminal defendant be sentenced to a term of imprisonment unless the state afforded him the right to assistance of appointed counsel in his defense.

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