Right to counsel

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Legislation, Civil Commitment

A respondent has the right to court-appointed counsel in involuntary commitment matters if they are unable to afford counsel or if they lack the capacity to secure an attorney:


At the time when any petition has been filed seeking the involuntary commitment of a respondent, the probate judge . . . shall determine if the respondent has the funds with which to employ an attorney to represent the respondent and if the respondent has the mental ability to secure the services of an attorney.  If the respondent does not have funds with which to employ an attorney or does not have the mental ability to secure the services of an attorney, the probate judge shall appoint an attorney, who may be the same person as the guardian ad litem, to represent the respondent.  The probate judge shall immediately inform the attorney so appointed of his appointment.


Ala. Code § 22-52-4(a); see also Ala. Code § 22-52-14, which addresses payment of appointed attorneys (“In any commitment proceeding, the fees of any attorney appointed by the probate judge to act as advocate for the petition and any attorney or guardian ad litem appointed by the probate judge for the person sought to be committed shall be set at the rates established by Section 15–12–21 …”).

"Involuntary commitment" is defined in this area of the code as "[c]ourt ordered mental health services in either an outpatient or inpatient setting," Ala. Code § 22-52-1.1(9), so this provision applies to both civil commitment and involuntary medical treatment matters.


Another statute specifies that the judge "shall appoint an attorney to serve as the advocate in support of the petition to commit in all matters regarding a petition to commit."  Ala. Code § 22-52-5.


As to minors subject to involuntary commitment proceedings, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent them and may also appoint a guardian ad litem. Ala. Code § 12-15-405(b).  Unlike the provision applicable to adults, "involuntary commitment" in the juvenile code refers only to the inpatient setting.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no