Florida SCT: right to counsel in termination proceedings survived SCOTUS opinion

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07/09/2015, Litigation, Termination of Parental Rights (State) - Birth Parents

In In Interest of D.B., 385 So. 2d 83 (Fla. 1980), the Florida Supreme Court found that due process under both the Florida and U.S. Constitutions requires the appointment of counsel where child dependency proceedings could result in the permanent loss of parental custody (i.e., are essentially combined with a termination proceeding) or where "the proceedings, because of their nature, may lead to criminal child abuse charges."  The court went on to state that


[W]here permanent termination or child abuse charges might result, counsel must be appointed for (1) the natural married or divorced indigent parents of the child, (2) the natural indigent mother of an illegitimate child, and (3) the natural indigent father of an illegitimate child when he legally has recognized or is in fact maintaining the child. We reject, however, any requirement for the mandatory appointment of counsel for the father of an illegitimate child who has not legally acknowledged or in fact supported the child.


Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lassiter (no right to counsel in termination proceedings), the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 reaffirmed its view that, when termination of parental rights are at stake, state due process always mandates appointment of counsel for the parent.   J.B. v. Fla. Dep’t of Children & Families, 170 So. 3d 780, 789-90 (Fla. 2015).

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no