Argersinger v. Hamlin

Following is the case brief for Argersinger v. Hamlin, Supreme Court of the United States, (1972)

Case summary for Argersinger v. Hamlin:

  • Jon Argersinger was charged with carrying a concealed weapon under a state statute which imposed a possible sentence of up to six months incarceration.
  • Argersinger was not appointed counsel, and was convicted.
  • Argersinger filed a petition for habeas corpus, claiming that his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
  • The Court held that under the Sixth Amendment, a person has a right to counsel for all offenses which include imprisonment as a possible penalty.

Argersinger v. Hamlin Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

A Florida state law for carrying a concealed weapon included a sentence for up to six months in jail. An indigent defendant by the name of Jon Argersinger, was tried for violating the law. At trial, Argersinger was not appointed counsel and was found guilty. Argersinger was sentenced to 90 days of incarceration. In response, claimed that he had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to have counsel appointed and filed a petition for habeas corpus.

Procedural History:

Argersinger appealed all the way up to the state supreme court, which dismissed the case. In response, Argersinger petitioned to the Supreme Court of the United States and certiorari was granted.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A suspect has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which extends to all offenses that carry a possible imprisonment sentence.

Issue and Holding:

Is a defendant entitled to the appointment of counsel under the Sixth Amendment, when charged with a misdemeanor offense where imprisonment is a possible penalty? Yes.


The Court reversed the lower court’s judgment.


Unanimous: The Court held that under the Sixth Amendment, a defendant charged with a crime that includes a possible penalty of imprisonment, has a right to counsel.

The Court pointed out that just because an offenses carrying a sentence of less than six months imprisonment may be tried before a judge and not a jury does not equate to no right to counsel. The role of an attorney is to make sure that the defendant receives a fair trial.

The importance of having counsel in a criminal trial is apparent through the almost universal use of attorneys by governments and criminal defendants who have the money to secure such representation. Just because an offense may be categorized as minor, it does not mean that it is free from complex constitutional or legal matters. An attorney can also ensure that a defendant’s guilty plea meets the standard of being voluntary and knowing, and help protect justice in a high volume high speed court system.

Statistically, defendants who have an attorney representing their rights are five times more likely to have the charges against them dropped.

Overall, the Court concluded that any defendant charged with an offense including a possible penalty of imprisonment has a right to counsel, unless they waive this right.


This landmark case established that all criminal defendant have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel when the crime they are charged with carries a possible imprisonment penalty.

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