Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

05/15/2023, Legislation, Incarceration for Fees/Fines (incomplete)

Oklahoma law grants a statutory right to counsel and notice of this right for an indigent defendant facing a civil contempt action that could result in incarceration. Okla. Stat. tit. 12, Chap. 2, App., Rule 29 ("In a civil contempt action which may result in the incarceration of a defendant who appears without counsel, the court must inform the defendant that he has a right to counsel and that if he is financially unable to employ counsel and desires such, the court must assign counsel to defend him. Only after receiving notice of this right, can the defendant knowingly and intelligently waive his right to counsel.").


Oklahoma recently enacted HB 2259, which amends Okla. Stat. tit. 22, § 22-983.  Under the statute, the court may issue a warrant for "failure to comply with the terms of a court financial obligations payment plan[.]" See OKla. Stat. tit. 22 § 983(1)-(2).  A "cost hearing" is held at which "the court determines the ability of a defendant to pay court financial obligations." Id. at (3).  If a defendant is found unable to pay, the court shall relieve them of the debt, in whole or in part. Id. at (B)(1).  If a defendant is found able to pay at the cost hearing and then becomes delinquent, a court may conduct a willfulness hearing. Id. at (J)(1).  If a finding of "willful failure to pay court financial obligations" is made, the court may impose a jail sentence.  However, a jail sentence may only be imposed if "the hearing is conducted on the record" and "the defendant is represented by counsel or expressly waives his or her right to counsel." Id. at (J)(3).

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes