The failure to appoint counsel in misdemeanor cases may represent one of the most widespread violations of federal constitutional rights in criminal cases. A decade ago, in Alabama v. Shelton, the Supreme Court held that indigent defendants sentenced to suspended terms of incarceration in misdemeanor cases have a constitutional right to appointed counsel, even if the defendant is never actually incarcerated. Several factors contribute to this omission. First, some jurisdictions have simply refused to honor the Court's holding. Second, potentially unconstitutional barriers to the appointment of counsel-including prohibitively high fees imposed on defendants, failures to fully inform defendants of their right to counsel, and promises of prompt case resolution only in the absence of counsel-may lead some defendants to waive counsel. Third, an absence of incentives for defense counsel to intervene may stand in the way of providing representation to those who are constitutionally entitled to it.
This Article argues that all of these forces, especially in their joint operation, have created a profound problem. The central difficulty is that major constitutional violations occur on a regular basis-to the detriment of highly vulnerable criminal defendants and our legal system as a whole. Some might argue that the Court in Shelton did not draw the optimal line for the right to counsel. But that line has been drawn, and the Shelton rule offers benefits that are well worth defending. Given a commitment to the Shelton line, this Article explores ways to guard the rights it guarantees.
Erica J. Hashimoto,
The Problem with Misdemeanor Representation
, 70 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1019
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/938