The petitioner in this case was the State of Alabama which was represented by William H. Pryor, Jr. He basically argued that the Supreme Court had already decided that the state does not have to provide a poor defendant a lawyer in a misdemeanor case when they are not actually going to be sent to prison. Since Shelton would not go to prison unless he violated his parole, the state was not obligated to provide him with a tax-payer funded attorney. He also argued that giving defendants a suspended sentence with probation would be a good incentive for rehabilitation. That means that people would be less likely to commit another crime if they knew they could go back to prison for breaking their parole.
The main constitutional amendments touched on in this case are the 6th Amendment and the 14th Amendment. The 6th Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to a fair trial and also guarantees the right to be represented by counsel at trial. The 14th Amendment guarantees “due process” before their “life or liberty” can be taken away.
Several previous court cases addressed the issue of right to counsel. The most famous was the case of Gideon v. Wainwright. This ruling stated that in felony, or very serious cases, defendants had to be appointed a lawyer if they could not afford one. It could only be a fair trial if both sides were represented by an attorney. Argersinger v. Hamlin expanded on the Gideon ruling by declaring that anyone charged with a crime that might wind up going to jail was entitled to an attorney unless they knowingly gave up that right and decided to defend themselves. Finally, the case of Scott v. Illinois decided that poor people weren’t entitled to a free attorney unless they are actually going to be sentenced to jail time. For instance, if they are only going to be given a fine instead of jail time, they are not entitled to a lawyer.
LeReed Shelton was charged with misdemeanor assault. Misdemeanor crimes are less serious than felonies. At his trial, he asked for a lawyer but was denied. He represented himself at the trial and was convicted. However, he didn’t have to go to jail. Instead he received a 30-day suspended sentence and a fine. A suspended sentence meant that he would not have to serve the 30 day sentence unless he violated his parole. Shelton still felt he should have received an attorney at trial, so he appealed his case to the Alabama courts. Eventually, the Supreme Court agreed to hear and decide the case in 2001. The issue they had to decide was: does a person accused of a misdemeanor have the constitutional right to an attorney even if they’re not actually sentenced to prison?