Mempa v. Rhay Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A joy rider had his probation revoked on the grounds of a previous burglary. He did not have counsel.

Facts of the case

Jerry Douglas Mempa pleaded guilty to joyriding, and he was placed on probation for two years and the imposition of his sentence was deferred. Four months later, the county prosecutor moved to revoke Mempa’s probation based on his involvement in a burglary. During the revocation hearing, Mempa was not represented by counsel, nor was he asked if he wished to have counsel appointed for him. Mempa pled guilty to the burglary charge, and the court revoked Mempa’s probation and sentenced him to ten years in prison. Mempa petitioned the Washington Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus and claimed that he was denied his right to counsel during the proceedings revoking his probation. The Washington Supreme Court denied his petition.


Whether the right to counsel extends to the time of sentencing where the sentencing has been deferred subject to probation.


Yes. The Supreme Court reasoned that in a case such as this is the fact that certain legal rights may be lost if not exercised at this stage. Further, the Court noted that a plea of guilty might well be improperly obtained by the promise to have a defendant placed on the very probation the revocation of which furnishes the occasion of which furnishes the occasion for desiring to withdraw the plea.


The court affirmed. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court held that the right to appointment of counsel was absolute in felony cases, even for an indigent. This is because some legal rights may be lost if they are not exercised at this stage. For example, in Washington an appeal in a case involving a plea of guilty followed by probation can only be taken after sentence is imposed following revocation of probation. The court decided that a lawyer must be afforded at this proceeding whether it be labeled a revocation of probation or a deferred sentencing. We assume that counsel appointed for the purpose of the trial or guilty plea would not be unduly burdened by being requested to follow through at the deferred sentencing stage of the proceeding.

  • Case Brief: 1967
  • Petitioner: Jerry Douglas Mempa
  • Respondent: B. J. Rhay
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 389 US 128 (1967)
Argued: Oct 11 – 12, 1967
Decided: Nov 13, 1967