Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25; 92 S. Ct. 2006; 32 L. Ed. 2d 530 (1972)

Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25; 92 S. Ct. 2006; 32 L. Ed. 2d 530 (1972)

Facts—A Florida court convicted Argersinger of carrying a concealed weapon. He was indigent and was unable to afford a lawyer. The offense was punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Argersinger was sentenced to ninety days in jail. The Florida Supreme Court rejected his plea that he should have been entitled to court-appointed representation.

Question—Did the state’s failure to appoint counsel in a nonpetty offense involving a possible jail term violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?


ReasonsJ. Douglas (9–0). In Duncan v. Louisiana (1968) the Court held that the right to a jury trial applied to “non-petty offenses punishable by more than six months imprisonment.” The right to a jury trial, however, “has a different genealogy” than the right to counsel. “The assistance of counsel is often a requisite to the very existence of a fair trial.” The reasoning in Gideon v. Wainwright and previous cases applies to any cases, including misdemeanors, involving possible jail time. Time in jail often has serious consequences. Thus, counsel needs to be provided in all such cases other than those involving “a knowing and intelligent waiver.”

J. Brennan, concurring, pointed out that in some misdemeanor cases, law students might be able to provide assistance. J. Burger, concurring, agreed that any case involving imprisonment should entitle an individual to counsel but argued that judges will be capable of making such predictions beforehand.

J. Powell’s concurrence focused on the issue of “fundamental fairness,” and feared that this decision might actually advantage indigent defendants over others. He favored a three-part test that would look at “the complexity of the offense charged,” “the probable sentence that will follow,” and “the individual factors peculiar to each case.”

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