PA appellate court: right to counsel attaches where incarceration is threatened

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03/03/2020, Litigation, Civil Contempt in Family Court

Following up on a NCCRC-assisted victory regarding the right to counsel when a person faces incarceration for inability to pay criminal fees/fines (called Commonwealth v. Diaz), a Pennsylvania appellate court considered whether the right to counsel also attaches when a court imposes fees in a family law context and then incarcerates a litigant for inability to pay such fees.  The court ruled that the right to counsel does attach, notwithstanding that the money was owed to a private party.  It relied on Diaz and holding that "The trial court imposed incarceration as a sanction, creating a clear likelihood of imprisonment ... The trial court should have then ascertained “whether [Father was] entitled to court-appointed counsel.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

 

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The NCCRC co-wrote one of the amicus briefs in the case.