Right to counsel

Litigation, Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

In Artibee v. Cheboygan Circuit Judge, 243 N.W.2d 248, 249 (Mich. 1976), the Michigan Supreme Court held there was a right to counsel in paternity proceedings under the state constitution in situations where the state or county prosecutes the action.


The court articulated the following considerations: (1) the nature of the proceedings (i.e., where there is a "quasi-criminal" element to them) generally prosecuted by public officials at public expense, (2) whether the interests of the individuals and the state that are affected are substantial, and (3) whether the nature of the proceeding is sufficiently complex so as to require counsel to ensure a fair trial. With the exception of looking to whether the proceedings have a quasi-criminal element, these elements are variants on the standard factors from Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976) (strength of individual interest, risk of error, state's interest). The court commented that "the nature of the proceedings is sufficiently complex so as to require counsel to insure a fair trial," noted that paternity cases could involve "sharply disputed factual question[s] concerning the relationship of the parties", and pointed out that a defendant in a paternity case who might not believe he is the actual father might not know to "file notice of alibi if he intends to rely upon that defense."  Moreover, the unrepresented defendant may not know of his statutory right to demand blood tests and would likely not know how to determine the legal significance of the results, nor would an unrepresented defendant know how to object to improper statements by the prosecution.


The court also noted the potential criminal consequences as well as the family relationships established by a paternity finding: "Although the immediate consequence of the paternity judgment is an order of filiation and for support, the order is enforceable by contempt proceedings. Penalties for contempt include up to one year in the county jail or state prison or until the amount due is fully paid." The court then concluded that 


The fact that many procedural safeguards attendant to criminal trials have been made applicable to paternity proceedings, and the reality that prosecution is often undertaken at public expense, constitute recognition that the outcome is of great importance both to the defendant and to the state. The Legislature has expressed its opinion that the complainant and her child would not receive a fair trial without benefit of counsel. The same consideration of fundamental fairness should apply to the defendant when faced with the power of the state arrayed against him.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes