Rothgery was arrested on the suspicion that he was a felon in possession of a firearm. In fact, Rothgery was not a felon. When Rothgery was booked, he allegedly asked, in writing, for a court-appointed lawyer. However, on the document signed by Rothgery outlining the charges against him, the magistrate judge swore that Rothgery had waived his right to counsel. After Rothgery was released on bond pending his indictment, he repeatedly asked for counsel, but none was appointed. Six months later, a grand jury indicted Rothgery and he was rearrested. After two more requests for counsel, an attorney was finally appointed to Rothgery four days after he was arrested the second time. The attorney uncovered evidence that Rothgery was not a felon and the charges against him were finally dropped three months later.
Rothgery sued Gillespie County alleging that the county violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel. Gillespie County claimed that Rothgery did not have a right to counsel until he was indicted. The district court agreed and dismissed Rothgery's suit.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel in criminal prosecutions applies only when "adversary judicial proceedings" have begun against the accused. "Adversary judicial proceedings" begin when the government has fully committed to prosecuting the case against the accused. Here, the Fifth Circuit determined that the government had not committed to prosecuting Rothgery until the grand jury returned the indictment. Therefore, he had no right to counsel before this time.
In this case, petitioner was arrested and brought before a magistrate judge who informed petitioner of the accusation against him, found probable cause that he had committed the offense based on a police officer's sworn affidavit, and committed him to jail pending trial or the posting of bail. The question presented is whether the Fifth Circuit correctly held -- in a decision that conflicts with those of other federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort -- that adversary judicial proceedings nevertheless had not commenced, and petitioner's Sixth Amendment rights had not attached, because no prosecutor was involved in petitioner's arrest or appearance before the magistrate.