Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Litigation, Incarceration for Fees/Fines (incomplete)

There is no statute or case addressing a right to counsel in a case to collect unpaid fines and fees, such as a civil contempt proceeding.  But looking to analogous civil contempt cases is instructive. 


In Otton v. Zaborac, the Alaska Supreme Court held that indigent defendants in civil contempt hearings for nonpayment of child support have the right to counsel. 525 P.2d 537, 539 (Alaska 1974).  The Court held, “The potential deprivation of liberty in nonsupport contempt proceedings is as serious a matter as the restraint of liberty possible in criminal, juvenile, and criminal contempt proceedings.  Therefore, we hold that in the case before us due process of law requires the assistance of counsel.” Otton, 525 P.2d at 539–40. 


It is unclear what effect, if any, Turner v. Rogers would have on Otton, since the Otton opinion cited to both the federal and the Alaskan constitutions while Turner relied on the U.S. Constitution alone. See Otton525 P.2d at 539 (“We have consistently held that one facing a possible deprivation of liberty must be afforded all of the fundamental constitutional rights guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions.”); Turner131 S.Ct. 2507 (2011) (Fourteenth Amendment does not require right to counsel in civil contempt, at least where opponent is neither the state nor represented and matter is not “especially complex”).  Thus, Otton may still be good law, because it was decidedat least in-parton state constitutional grounds.  Further, the facts of Turner, where a private party brought the contempt action, are distinguishable from a fines and fees case where the government brings the contempt action.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes