RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Jackson Circuit Court
DOCKET NO.: 92-8556
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
CITATION: 511 US 738 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 06, 1994
Facts of the case
Media for Nichols v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 1994 in Nichols v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 06, 1994 in Nichols v. United States
William H. Rehnquist:
I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 92-8556, Nichols against the United States.
In this case the petitioner, Nichols, was convicted of a felony drug offense and when it came time to sentence him, the District Court following the sentencing guidelines took into consideration his previous misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence.
The petitioner objected because he had not been furnished a lawyer to represent him in the misdemeanor proceeding.
The District Court rejected this argument and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court.
It is clear under our decision in Scott versus Illinois that petitioner's earlier misdemeanor conviction was constitutionally valid because he received only a fine and no jail time.
But the use of the conviction to increase his sentence for his current felony drug conviction has been a matter of dispute in lower Federal Courts and State Courts.
In the case of Baldasar against Illinois, a five to four majority of this Court held that a prior uncounseled misdemeanor conviction, even though constitutional under Scott, could not be used to augment a second misdemeanor conviction so that it would be a felony under the applicable state sentencing statute.
Baldasar was a splintered decision that produced three separate opinions for the result reached by the majority without any common reasoning, and today we overrule that case and adapt the views of the dissenters there.
We adhere to the principle announced in Scott versus Illinois that an uncounseled misdemeanor conviction that results in no jail time is a constitutional conviction.
And a logical consequence of this rule is that an uncounseled conviction valid under Scott may be relied upon to enhance the sentence for a subsequent offense even though that sentence entails imprisonment.
Sentencing enhancement statutes which seek to punish repeat offenders more harshly do not change the penalty imposed from the earlier conviction.
Justice Souter has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens and Ginsburg join.