Right to counsel

Litigation, Sexually Dangerous Persons - Commitment

In Civil Commitment of D.L., 797 A.2d 166 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2002), the court held that an indigent sex offender committed under the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) has a right to appointed counsel on appeal under the due process clause of the federal constitution. The SVPA statute provides for the appointment of counsel at commitment hearings, but is "silent regarding the appointment of counsel on appeal."  The court determined that indigents appealing involuntary commitment under the SVPA were entitled the same due process rights as defendants appealing a conviction because an important liberty interest was at stake: the loss of physical freedom. It relied on Lassiter for the idea that "it is the deprivation of personal freedom, not merely the prosecution itself, that triggers the right to counsel."  In addition, the court found that the liberty interest at stake for SPVA offenders in these civil commitment proceedings may be greater because it also included a social stigma and an indefinite confinement: "The label affixed to a case, whether it be civil or criminal, is not the dispositive consideration. Rather we look to the infringement upon the person's due process rights to guide our decision."

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes