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.
Yet in Nichols, a case involving the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Justice Souter in his concurrence in judgment expressed his understanding of why the court had required actual imprisonment as a condition for the right to counsel: the concern over reliability raised by the absence of counsel is tolerable when a defendant does not face the deprivation of his liberty.View Full Point of Law