Scott v. Illinois

Facts of the Case

Aubrey Scott, an indigent defendant, was tried in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, without counsel having been appointed for him, and was convicted of shoplifting. Under an Illinois law setting the maximum penalty for first offenders at a $500 fine, one year in jail, or both, Scott was fined $50. The state intermediate appellate court affirmed Scott’s conviction, and the Supreme Court of Illinois also affirmed, rejecting Scott’s contention that under the


Did the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments require Illinois to provide Scott with trial counsel?


A plurality held that Illinois had not violated the Constitution. Writing for four of the justices, Rehnquist clarified the Court’s holding in Argersinger v. Hamlin (1972) and argued that states could only sentence a convicted criminal to imprisonment if that person had been represented by counsel. Since Scott was not sentenced to imprisonment, even though the applicable statute allowed for it, the state was not obligated to provide counsel. Rehnquist called that line of reasoning the central premise of Argersinger.

Case Information

  • Citation: 440 US 367 (1979)
  • Argued: Dec 4, 1978
  • Decided Mar 5, 1979