These consolidated cases in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida began sometime before 1971 when several indigent defendants, convicted in the Municipal Court of Jacksonville of offenses punishable by imprisonment for less than six months, filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus. They alleged that they had been tried and convicted without counsel solely on account of their indigency. At the time, the prevailing law in Florida, as set forth by the Florida courts, was that criminal defendants were entitled to court-appointed counsel only when charged with offenses which carried a possible penalty of more than six months imprisonment.
The case of Argersinger v. Hamlin, 401 U.S. 908 (1971) (cert. granted), was then pending before the U.S. Supreme Court; Argersinger raised the issue of when the Constitution required that court appointed counsel be made available to indigent criminal defendants charged with misdemeanors. The District Court therefore deferred final decision on the habeas petitions pending the Supreme Court's decision in Argesinger, but released the plaintiffs on their own recognizance pending the decision by the Supreme Court. The Municipal Court subsequently set aside each conviction.
On June 12, 1972, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Argersinger, holding that, absent waiver, no person may be imprisoned for any offense unless he or she was represented by counsel at trial. Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972).
In March 1971, the District Court permitted plaintiffs to convert their habeas petitions into a 42 U.S.C §1983 class action brought on behalf of a class of indigent citizens facing prosecution in the Municipal Court. This action, brought against the City of Jacksonville, the Prosecuting Attorney for the Municipal Court of Jacksonville, and the Sheriff of the city, alleged that the constitutional requirement that one may not be imprisoned without first having been provided with counsel at trial, was not being adequately implemented in the Municipal Court. The Plaintiffs asked that the District Court grant an injunctive remedy.
On September, 29, 1972, the District Court (William A. McRae, Jr., Chief Judge) concluded that the existing practice of refusing to assign court-appointed counsel to indigent defendants absent a pre-trial determination by prosecutors that the charged offense would be punished by imprisonment was inadequate to satisfy Argersinger, particularly in light of the fact that, where an indigent individual was unable to pay an imposed fine, that fine could be automatically converted into imprisonment. Gilliard v. Carson, 348 F. Supp. 757 (M.D. Fl. 1972). The District Court issued an order enjoining the prosecuting attorney for the Municipal Court of Jacksonville from "prosecuting any indigent citizen in the Municipal Court of Jacksonville for any offense punishable by imprisonment, including any offense punishable by a fine, when the fine may be automatically or administratively transformed into a jail term for nonpayment" unless the defendant is represented by counsel or has waived the right to such representation. Id., at 763.
Because we have no documents on this case other than the District Court opinion issuing the injunctive order, we have no more information on this file.Vidhya Reddy - 01/28/2008