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Argersinger v. Hamlin

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Significance: The Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments mandate that states must provide a poor defendant with a lawyer at the time of trial if the defendant could be imprisoned for any period of time.


In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Supreme Court held that states must provide counsel for indigent defendants in felony cases. However, it was not clear whether this expanded right to an attorney applied to misdemeanor cases. Then the Court decided in 1968 that defendants had a right to a jury trial when they faced incarceration for six months or more. In this context, Argersinger was not provided counsel when he was convicted and sentenced to three months in jail for the misdemeanor of carrying a concealed weapon. By a 9-0 vote, the Court reversed Argersinger's conviction. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas developed the one-day rule, which triggers the right to counsel whenever a person is deprived of liberty for even one day. The Argersinger decision was ambiguous about whether the right to counsel applied whenever a defendant was charged with a crime that could result in a jail term. The Court clarified the issue in Scott v. Illinois (1979), holding that counsel must be provided only if conviction would actually result in imprisonment.