PA appellate court: right to counsel attaches where incarceration is threatened
While a state may have many statutes, court decisions, or court rules governing appointment of counsel for a particular subject area, a "Key Development" is a statute/decision/rule that prevails over the others (example: a state high court decision finding a categorical right to counsel in guardianships cases takes precedence over a statute saying appointment in guardianship cases is discretionary).
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.
If "yes", the established right to counsel or discretionary appointment of counsel is limited in some way, including any of: the only authority is a lower/intermediate court decision or a city council, not a high court or state legislature; there has been a subsequent case that has cast doubt; a statute is ambiguous; or the right or discretionary appointment is not for all types of individuals or proceedings within that category.
Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes
The NCCRC co-wrote one of the amicus briefs in the case.