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Halbert v. Michigan

Case Name
Halbert v. Michigan
545 U.S. 605
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Judge(s) - Majority
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, David Souter
Judge(s) - Dissent
Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
Michigan Supreme Court
Decision Year


In 1994, Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment making defendants who have pleaded guilty or nolo contendere receive leave of court to appeal their conviction. After this, state judges began denying appellate-appointed counsel to indigent defendants convicted by plea. The Defendant in this case was convicted by plea, having pleaded nolo contendere and sought appointed counsel to assist him in applying for leave to appeal. The state trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals denied his request. The Michigan Supreme Court denied review. The Court vacated the decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals, holding that counsel must be appointed for indigent defendants to assist in applying for appeal. The Court based this decision on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. The Court also cited prior case law, which holds that in first appeals, as of right, states must appoint counsel to represent indigent defendants. The Court noted, however, that states are not required to appoint counsel for indigent defendants in discretionary appeals. The court looked to whether the process entailed an adjudication on the merits and whether the process of applying for leave to appeal resembled traditional first-tier review. The Court subsequently held that Michigan must appoint counsel for defendants seeking leave to appeal.

Key Quote

“Accordingly, we hold that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses require the appointment of counsel for defendants, convicted on their pleas, who seek access to first-tier review in the Michigan Court of Appeals.” p.610