Right to counsel

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Legislation, Civil Commitment - Subject of Petition

An indigent person is entitled to counsel in a proceeding for inpatient involuntary commitment for either mental health or substance abuse.  N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-451(a)(6).  N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-451(b) specifies that “entitlement to the services of counsel begins as soon as feasible after the indigent is taken into custody or service is made upon him of the charge, petition, notice or other initiating process” and “entitlement continues through any critical stage of the action or proceeding.”  This statutory provision also lists a number of situations that are definitively considered critical. See also N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 122C-270, which states:

 

(a)  In a superior court district or set of districts as defined in G.S. 7A-41.1 in which a State facility for the mentally ill is located, the Commission on Indigent Defense Services shall appoint an attorney licensed to practice in North Carolina as special counsel for indigent respondents who are mentally ill. These special counsel shall serve at the pleasure of the Commission, may not privately practice law, and shall receive annual compensation within the salary range for assistant public defenders as fixed by the Office of Indigent Defense Services. The special counsel shall represent all indigent respondents at all hearings, rehearings, and supplemental hearings held at the State facility. Special counsel shall determine indigency in accordance with G.S. 7A-450(a). Indigency is subject to redetermination by the presiding judge. If the respondent appeals, counsel for the appeal shall be appointed in accordance with rules adopted by the Office of Indigent Defense Services.

 

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(d)  At hearings held in counties other than those designated in subsection (a) of this section, counsel for indigent respondents shall be appointed in accordance with rules adopted by the Office of Indigent Defense Services.

 

(e)  If the respondent is committed to a non-State 24-hour facility, assigned counsel remains responsible for the respondent's representation at the trial level until discharged by order of district court, until the respondent is unconditionally discharged from the facility, or until the respondent voluntarily admits himself or herself to the facility. If the respondent is transferred to a State facility for the mentally ill, assigned counsel is discharged. If the respondent appeals, counsel for the appeal shall be appointed in accordance with rules adopted by the Office of Indigent Defense Services.

 

For substance abuse commitments, § 122C-286 specifies that “If the respondent is indigent within the meaning of G.S. 7A-450, counsel shall be appointed to represent the respondent in accordance with rules adopted by the Office of Indigent Defense Services.”

 

For juveniles, counsel must be appointed within 48 hours of admittance “to a 24-hour facility wherein his freedom of movement will be restricted,” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 122C-224.1.  A juvenile is also entitled to counsel when a hearing is held which might result in “commitment to an institution.”  N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-451(a)(8), and such “entitlement to the services of counsel begins as soon as feasible after the indigent is taken into custody or service is made upon him of the charge, petition, notice or other initiating process.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-451(b).  

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no