Alabama v. Shelton

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Alabama v. Shelton
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 19, 2002
Decided May 20, 2002
Full case name Alabama v. LeReed Shelton
Citations 535 U.S. 654 (more)
122 S.Ct. 1764, 152 L.Ed.2d 888, 02 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 4307, 2002 Daily Journal D.A.R. 5472, 15 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 281
Prior history Defendant convicted, Alabama Circuit Court; affirmed, 851 So. 2d 83 (Ala. Crim. App. 1998); sentence reversed, 851 So. 2d 96 (Ala. 2000); certiorari granted, 532 U.S. 1018 (2001)
A suspended sentence that may result in incarceration may not be imposed if defendant did not have counsel at trial.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
Majority Ginsburg, joined by Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, Breyer
Dissent Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Kennedy, Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. VI

Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654 (2002), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling that counsel (a lawyer) must be provided for the accused in order to impose a suspended prison sentence.


Shelton was accused of third-degree assault, which, in Alabama, is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $2,000 fine. The court repeatedly warned Shelton of the dangers of representing himself during the trial, yet failed to offer him counsel. He represented himself both in the local court, where he was convicted, and the Alabama Circuit Court, where he was also convicted. However, the Circuit Court gave Shelton a 30-day suspended sentence and 2 years' probation.

The Criminal Court of Appeals found that it was not compulsory to offer the defendant counsel for a suspended sentence because the sentence did not result in actual confinement.

The Supreme Court of Alabama stated that: (1) a defendant may not be sentenced to a term of imprisonment absent provision of counsel; and (2) for purposes of this rule, a suspended sentence constitutes a "term of imprisonment," even though incarceration is not immediate or inevitable.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The United States Supreme Court affirmed the Supreme Court of Alabama's decision.

"A suspended sentence that may end up in the actual deprivation of a person's liberty may not be imposed unless the defendant was accorded the guiding hand of counsel in the prosecution for the crime charged."

"It is not true that only those criminal proceedings result-ing in immediate actual imprisonment trigger an indigent defendant's right to state-appointed counsel under the Federal Constitution's Sixth Amendment, for (1) no person may be imprisoned for any offense unless the person was represented by counsel at trial; and (2) the Sixth Amendment inquiry trains on the stage of the proceed-ings where the defendant's guilt is adjudicated, eligibility for imprisonment established, and prison sentence de-termined."

"...does the Sixth Amendment permit activation of a suspended sentence upon the defendant's violation of the terms of probation? We conclude that it does not. A suspended sentence is a prison term imposed for the offense of conviction."

See also[edit]

Works related to Alabama v. Shelton at Wikisource

Further reading[edit]

  • Kitai, Rinat (2004). "What Remains Necessary following Alabama v. Shelton to Fulfill the Right of a Criminal Defendant to Counsel at the Expense of the State". Ohio Northern University Law Review. 30 (1): 35–58. 
  • Stambaugh, Joshua S. (2004). "Alabama v. Shelton: One Small Step for Man, One Very Small Step for the Sixth Amendment's Right to Counsel". Pepperdine Law Review. 31 (2): 609–659.