Brief Fact Summary. After not being offered counsel at state expense, indigent defendant represented himself in a state court assault trial that resulted in his receiving a thirty-day suspended sentence.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under the Sixth Amendment, a suspended sentence that may result in an actual deprivation of a defendant’s liberty may not be imposed unless defendant was accorded guiding hand of counsel in the prosecution for the crime charged.
Issue. Does the Sixth Amendment right to counsel permit a state to impose a suspended sentence even though the ineffectively-assisted defendant was not actually incarcerated?
Held. No. The Alabama Supreme Court’s vacation of the suspended sentence was affirmed.
Because the suspended sentence could potentially result in an actual deprivation of the indigent defendant’s liberty, he needed to have received adequate assistance of counsel in his trial for assault.
The court did not view the suspended sentence as a contingent penalty at the violation of probation capable of being cured by giving the defendant an attorney at subsequent probationary hearings. They viewed it as a prison term that would be imposed as a result of the assault trial at which he had ineffective assistance of counsel, and thus his Sixth Amendment rights were violated.
Dissent. J. Scalia. The established “Actual Imprisonment” rule requires that absent a knowing and intelligent waiver, a defendant may not merely have faced the possibility of imprisonment, but have actually been imprisoned to be able to bring a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Discussion. This decision results in courts having to offer to appoint counsel at state expense to indigents whenever there is a possibility that the offense with which they are charged may result in prison time. This is the case even if they are not sent directly to prison.