Brief Fact Summary. An indigent was convicted on a misdemeanor weapons charge. He was tried before a judge without counsel.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “Absent a knowing and intelligent waiver, no person may be imprisoned for any offense, whether classified as petty, misdemeanor, or felony, unless he was represented by counsel at trial.
Counsel is needed so that the accused may know precisely what he is doing, so that he is fully aware of the prospect of going to jail or prison, and so that he is treated fairly by the prosecution.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether the Sixth Amendment right of court-appointed counsel applies to only trials of non-petty offenses.
Held. No. The Supreme Court of the United States first held that the Duncan case the Florida Court had relied upon actually “limited the right to trial by jury to trials where the potential punishment was imprisonment for six months or more.” The Court also noted that “problems associated with the misdemeanor and petty offenses often require the presence of counsel to insure the accused a fair trial.” The Court did not consider the right to counsel as applied to people facing actual jail time.
Discussion. “The requirement of counsel may well be necessary for a fair trial even in a petty-offense prosecution.”