Betts v. Brady Case Brief

Facts of the case

Betts was indicted for robbery in Maryland. He was unable to afford counsel and requested one be appointed for him. The judge in the case denied the request, and Betts subsequently pled not guilty. He was convicted of robbery, which he eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. He argued he was wrongfully denied his right to counsel.

Why is the case important?

The petitioner, Betts (the “petitioner”), was indicted for robbery in circuit court in Maryland. He was indigent and unable to retain an attorney. When he requested the Court appoint him an attorney, the Court informed the petitioner that it was not the practice of the Court to appoint counsel for indigent defendants, except in prosecutions for murder and rape.


Whether the judgment issued by Judge Bond was rendered by the highest court in which a decision could be made on a federal question?


Judge Bond was empowered to act to issue a writ.


The court determined that the Fourteenth Amendment did not strictly require that a defendant be appointed counsel at a trial for every criminal offense. The inmate was not deprived of his liberty without due process of law because the Sixth Amendment guarantee of counsel only applied to trials in federal courts, and the Fourteenth Amendment did not incorporate that guarantee. There was no right to state-appointed counsel in every case in which a defendant, charged with a crime, was unable to obtain counsel. In most states, appointment of counsel was not a fundamental right, but was deemed a matter of legislative policy. Maryland defendants, such as the inmate, traditionally waived a jury trial, thereby trying their case before a judge who was in a better position to see that impartial justice was done.

  • Advocates: Jesse Slingluff Jr. for the petitioner William C. Walsh for the respondent Robert E. Clapp, Jr. for the respondent G. Van Velsor Wolf for the petitioner
  • Petitioner: Smith Betts
  • Respondent: Patrick J. Brady, Warden
  • DECIDED BY:Stone Court
  • Location: Circuit Court for Carroll County
Citation: 316 US 455 (1942)
Granted: Feb 16, 1942
Argued: Apr 13 – 14, 1942
Decided: Jun 1, 1942
Betts v. Brady Case Brief