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535 U. S. ____ (2002)

This case concerns the Sixth Amendment right of an indigent defendant charged with a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment, fine, or both, to the assistance of court-appointed counsel. Two prior decisions control the Court’s judgment. First, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U. S. 25 (1972), this Court held that defense counsel must be appointed in any criminal prosecution, “whether classified as petty, misdemeanor, or felony,” id., at 37, “that actually leads to imprisonment even for a brief period,” id., at 33. Later, in Scott v. Illinois, 440 U. S. 367, 373-374 (1979), the Court drew the line at “actual imprisonment,” holding that counsel need not be appointed when the defendant is fined for the charged crime, but is not sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

Defendant-respondent LeReed Shelton, convicted of third-degree assault, was sentenced to a jail term of 30 days, which the trial court immediately suspended, placing Shelton on probation for two years. The question presented is whether the Sixth Amendment right to appointed counsel, as delineated in Argersinger and Scott, applies to a defendant in Shelton’s situation. We hold that 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. Argersinger, 407 U. S., at 40 (internal quotation marks omitted).

 
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