Discretionary appointment of counsel

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Litigation, Civil Contempt in Family Court

In New Mexico v. Rael, the Supreme Court of New Mexico stated that "the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment does not require the appointment of counsel in every case where an indigent faces the possibility of imprisonment if found to be in civil contempt for failure to comply with an order of support." 642 P.2d 1099, 1103 (N.M. 1982).  The Supreme Court determined that the trial court had failed to consider important factors— namely, "the indigent's ability to understand the proceeding, the complexity of the legal and factual issues, and the defenses that might be presented"—that weigh on whether fundamental fairness requires the appointment of counsel to an indigent defendant under the fourteenth amendment, and remanded the case to the trial court for such a "case-by-case determination."  In light of the remand on federal grounds, the Court declined to consider defendant's state due process claim.


Notably, the court said, "We do not consider whether an indigent is entitled to counsel in other stages of paternity and support actions or where the Department of Human Services is not acting as assignee of support rights of a welfare recipient."

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no