Scott v. Illinois

Scott v. Illinois Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
440 U.S. 367 (1979)

ISSUE: Is the Argersinger rule that no person may be incarcerated or any offense unless he was represented by counsel still valid?
  • Scott was convicted of shoplifting merchandise
  • D argued that the Argersinger requires that the State provide counsel whenever imprisonment is an authorized penalty
  • Ill. Sup. Ct. rejected this view
  • Argersinger did delimit right to counsel: The basis premise of Argersinger is that actual imprisonment, vs. just fines or the mere threat of imprisonment, is the dividing line for the constitutional right to appointment of counsel
    • 6th & 14th Amdts. require only that no indigent criminal D be sentenced to a term of imprisonment unless the State has afforded him the right to assistance of appointed counsel in his defense
  • Rule adopted by the majority is not required by the Constitution
  • Trial judges will be required to decide in advance of hearing any evidence and before knowing anything about the case whether they chose to impose a sentence of imprisonment
DISSENT - Brennan:
  • Plain wording of the 6th Amdt. and the precedents compel the conclusion that the right to counsel extends to all criminal prosecutions, including Scott's
  • Gideon established a categorical right to appointed counsel for indigent accuseds
  • Scott's offense was not "petty," and thus his right to counsel was plainly mandated by the logic of the Court's prior cases, including Argersinger
  • "Actual imprisonment" standard's problems shows that the "authorized imprisonment" standard is superior
DISSENT - Blackmun: Counsel should be appointed to indigent Ds whenever a D is prosecuted for a nonpetty criminal offense, one punishable by more than 6 months in jail, or whenever a D is convicted of an offense and is actually subjected to a term of imprisonment

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