Nichols v. United States, 511 U.S. 738 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 92-8556. Argued January 10, 1994—Decided June 6, 1994

After petitioner Nichols pleaded guilty to federal felony drug charges, he was assessed criminal history points under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, including one point for a state misdemeanor conviction for driving while under the influence (DUI), for which he was fined but not incarcerated. That point increased the maximum sentence of imprisonment from 210 to 235 months. Petitioner objected to the inclusion of his DUI conviction, arguing that because he had not been represented by counsel in that proceeding, considering it in establishing his sentence would violate the Sixth Amendment as construed in Baldasar v. Illinois, 446 U. S. 222. However, the District Court reasoned that Baldasar lacked a majority opinion and thus stood only for the proposition that a prior uncounseled misdemeanor conviction may not be used to create a felony with a prison term. Since petitioner's offense was already defined as a felony, the court ruled that Baldasar was inapplicable and sentenced petitioner to a term of imprisonment 25 months longer than it could have been had the DUI conviction not been considered. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Consistent with the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, a sentencing court may consider a defendant's previous uncounseled misdemeanor conviction in sentencing him for a subsequent offense so long as the previous uncounseled misdemeanor conviction did not result in a sentence of imprisonment. Pp. 743-749. (a) A year after this Court decided that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor has no constitutional right to counsel where no sentence of imprisonment is imposed, Scott v. Illinois, 440 U. S. 367, a majority of the Court held in Baldasar that a prior uncounseled misdemeanor conviction, constitutional under Scott, could not be collaterally used to convert a second misdemeanor conviction into a felony under the applicable Illinois sentencing enhancement statute. However, that per curiam opinion provided no rationale for its result, referring instead to three different concurring opinions to support the judgment. This splintered decision has created great confusion in the lower courts. Pp. 743-746. (b) Five Members of the Baldasar Court expressed continued adherence to Scott. This Court adheres to that holding today, but agrees

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