U.S. Supreme Court
Chewning v. Cunningham, 368 U.S. 443 (1962)
Chewning v. Cunningham
Argued December 4-5, 1961
Decided February 19, 1962
368 U.S. 443
In a trial in a Virginia court at which he requested but was denied counsel, petitioner was convicted of having been three times convicted and sentenced for felonies, and he was sentenced to 10 years' additional imprisonment. The applicable statute provides that, when it appears that a person convicted of an offense has been previously sentenced "to a like punishment," he may be tried on an information that alleges "the existence of records of prior convictions and the identity of the prisoner named in each," and it leaves to the trial court's discretion the length of the sentence which may be imposed for three or more convictions. Under Virginia law, not only the identity of the prisoner and the existence of the records, but also the validity of the prior convictions, may be at issue in such a proceeding.
Held: trial on a charge of being a habitual criminal is such a serious one, the issues presented under Virginia's statute are so complex, and the potential prejudice resulting from the absence of counsel is so great that petitioner's trial and conviction without counsel violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 368 U. S. 443-447.