Right to counsel

Litigation, Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Accused Parents

In In Re Shelby, 804 A.2d 435, 437-38 (N.H. 2002), the New Hampshire Supreme Court stated in a plurality opinion that stepparents who are members of a household are categorically entitled to counsel in abuse/neglect proceedings under the state decision. The court relied on the damage to family relationships caused by a finding of abuse/neglect, the risk of error, and the potential for complex testimony.

After Shelby, the court took up the issue again in In re C.M., 48 A.3d 942 (N.H. 2012). This time, a different plurality of the court held that under the New Hampshire Constitution, counsel was not required for parents in all dependency proceedings. The court relied on the use of relaxed rules of evidence and the fact that the case was heard by a judge and not a jury to find that the risk of erroneous deprivation was not so high as to always require counsel. The court also found that at the dependency stage, the state's interests were still aligned with the parents in terms of trying to maintain the parent-child relationship. Because this was another plurality decision, it is not necessarily the last word on the subject.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes


Nccrc_involvement_icon NCCRC filed an amicus brief in the C.M. case.