Right to Counsel

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Legislation, Quarantine/Isolation

NOTE: this is a very complex area of law, especially as it relates to stay-at-home orders issued by the states.  Please read our primer on quarantine/isolation law before reading this specific state law.





For the prevention of diseases in a communicable stage, the Disease Prevention and Control Law empowers the Secretary of Health or any local health officer to isolate a person in an appropriate institution for "safekeeping and treatment."  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 521.11(a.1); see also 28 Pa. Code § 27.1-.205. "Isolation" in this context is defined as "...the separation for the period of communicability of infected persons or animals from other persons or animals in such places and under such conditions as will prevent the direct or indirect transmission of the infectious agent from infected persons or animals to other persons or animals who are susceptible or who may spread the disease to others."  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 521.2(e).  "Quarantine" is also authorized, and is defined as "the limitation of freedom of movement of persons or animals who have been exposed to a communicable disease for a period of time equal to the longest usual incubation period of the disease in such manner as to prevent effective contact with those not so exposed."  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 521.2(i).  If the person has refused to submit to treatment, the secretary or local health authority can petition the Court of Common Pleas for an order of commitment.  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 521.11(a.2).  Within the context of quarantine or isolation for disease control, though a court proceeding to determine if the person has refused treatment may ensue, there is no right to counsel articulated.  28 Pa. Code § 27.87(b).  However, the Pennsylvania Public Health Law Bench Book, states that “Due process and case law from other jurisdictions suggest respondents are entitled to be represented by counsel and appointing counsel for the indigent may be necessary.” §1.10(B)(5)(b); see also, Id. §§ 1.20(B)(5)(b), 1.30(B)(5)(b), and 1.40(B)(5)(b).   


The Public Health Emergency Measures chapter of the Counterterrorism Planning, Preparedness and Response Act, specifies that "in the case of an actual or suspected outbreak of a contagious disease or epidemic due to an actual or suspected bioterrorist or biohazardous event, the Governor, in consultation with the Secretary of Health, may temporarily isolate or quarantine an individual or groups of individuals through a written order..."  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2140.301(a).  Once the written order has been issued, the department, or its local counterpart, "...shall promptly file a petition with the court within 24 hours or the next court business day after the issuance of the order for a hearing to authorize the continued isolation or quarantine."  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2140.301(b)(1).  A person who has been isolated or quarantined “...is entitled to representation by legal counsel at all stages of any proceedings under this section and, if the individual is without financial resources or otherwise unable to employ counsel, the court shall provide counsel for him."  35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2140.301(b)(4).

With respect to other quarantine situations, the Pennsylvania Public Health Bench Bookstates,"The [Disease Prevention and Control Law] does not address the right to counsel or appointed counsel. However, due process and case law from other jurisdictions suggest respondents are entitled to be represented by counsel and appointing counsel for the indigent may be necessary."  

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes