Despite strong dissent, NJ Supreme Court avoids ruling on RTC in DV cases

01/01/2014, Litigation, Domestic Violence - Alleged Victim

The New Jersey Supreme Court declined to review whether alleged victims and abusers have a constitutional right to counsel in domestic violence cases.


Writing in dissent, Justice Albin said that the Court "refuse[s] to hear a case that raises significant questions about the fairness of our civil justice system -- a case that meets every criterion for the grant of certification under our Court Rules."  Justice Albin noted the 50th anniversary of Gideon, as well as the NJ Supreme Court's prior jurisprudence (a case called Rodriguez) that said the right to counsel attaches under the New Jersey Constitution whenever there is a "consequence of magnitude", which has been interpreted to even include proceedings where a person faces a fine of $750 or greater. Relying in part on the amicus brief, he described the "enormity of consequences that flow from a violation of the Domestic Violence Act", and stated,


How can our jurisprudence reconcile the right of appointed counsel to a defendant facing a $750 fine or a one-day license suspension in municipal court with the denial of that right to a defendant who is facing much more serious consequences in Superior Court in a domestic violence case?


He also took exception with the majority listing the number of potentially affected cases, pointing out that in Rodriguez,


We did not suggest that for defendants facing consequences of magnitude, the right to appointed counsel -- and therefore the right to a fair trial -- depended on a cost analysis. Had the United States Supreme Court taken the cost-analysis approach, Gideon would not be on the books today, nor would Rodriguez.


He added that while there were 15,000 DV proceedings (as observed by the per curiam opinion), there also had been 35,000+ DWI cases, "and in every one of those cases involving an indigent defendant, the right to appointed counsel was guaranteed. Our approach has not been that if too many indigent defendants require counsel, we will provide counsel to none."


Read more in our comprehensive bibliography section about the D.N. case.


Nccrc_involvement_icon NCCRC helped draft the amicus brief urging the NJ Supreme Court to accept review.