Alabama v. Shelton Case Brief

Why is the case important?

After not being offered counsel at state expense, indigent defendant represented himself in a state court assault trial that resulted in his receiving a thirty-day suspended sentence.

Facts of the case

“Lereed Shelton represented himself in an Alabama Circuit Court criminal trial. The court warned Shelton about the difficulties that self-representation entailed, but at no time offered him assistance of counsel at state expense. Ultimately, Shelton was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to a 30-day jail term, which the trial court suspended, placing Shelton on two years’ unsupervised probation. Shelton appealed on Sixth Amendment grounds. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed Shelton’s suspended jail sentence, reasoning that U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, and Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367, require provision of counsel in any petty offense, misdemeanor, or felony prosecution, “”that actually leads to imprisonment even for a brief period.”” The court concluded that, because a defendant may not be imprisoned absent provision of counsel, Shelton’s suspended sentence could never be activated and was therefore invalid.”


Does the Sixth Amendment right to counsel permit a state to impose a suspended sentence even though the ineffectively-assisted defendant was not actually incarcerated?


No. The Alabama Supreme Court’s vacation of the suspended sentence was affirmed.
Because the suspended sentence could potentially result in an actual deprivation of the indigent defendant’s liberty, he needed to have received adequate assistance of counsel in his trial for assault.



  • Case Brief: 2002
  • Petitioner: Alabama
  • Respondent: Shelton
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 535 US 654 (2002)
Argued: Feb 19, 2002
Decided: May 20, 2002