Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979)
U.S. Supreme CourtScott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979)
Scott v. Illinois
Argued December 4, 1978
Decided March 5, 1979
440 U.S. 367
Petitioner, an indigent, was convicted of shoplifting and was fined $50 after a bench trial in an Illinois state court. The applicable Illinois statute set the maximum penalty for such an offense at a $500 fine, one year in jail, or both. Petitioner's conviction was ultimately affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court, over the petitioner's contention that a line of cases culminating in Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U. S. 25, requires state provision of counsel whenever imprisonment is an authorized penalty.
Held: The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments require that no indigent criminal defendant be sentenced to a term of imprisonment unless the State has afforded him the right to assistance of appointed counsel in his defense, but do not require a state trial court to appoint counsel for a criminal defendant, such as petitioner, who is charged with a statutory offense for which imprisonment upon conviction is authorized but not imposed. Pp. 440 U. S. 369-374.
(a) Argersinger v. Hamlin, supra, limits the constitutional right to appointed counsel in state criminal proceedings to a case that actually leads to imprisonment. P. 440 U. S. 373.
(b) Even were the matter res nova, Argersinger's central premise -- that actual imprisonment is a penalty different in kind from fines or the mere threat of imprisonment -- is eminently sound, and warrants adoption of actual imprisonment as the line defining the constitutional right to appointment of counsel. P. 440 U. S. 373.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, and POWELL, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 440 U. S. 374. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 440 U. S. 375. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 440 U. S. 389.