Discretionary appointment of counsel

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Litigation, Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

In Wake County v. Townes, 293 S.E.2d 95 (N.C. 1982), a paternity determination case, the North Carolina Supreme Court recognized that "a related threat of actual 

imprisonment, based partially upon a prior determination of paternity, may arise in subsequent criminal or civil enforcement proceedings if such becomes necessary to secure a defendant- father's support obligation to his child," but held that such an uncertain "web of possibilities" was too removed and therefore did not trigger an automatic right to counsel.  The court implied some cases not involving deprivation of liberty might nevertheless require the appointment of counsel, and that to determine whether such a defendant had a right to counsel, the trial court should evaluate "the vital interests at stake on both sides" and determine "the degree of actual complexity involved in the given case and the corresponding nature of defendant's peculiar problems, if any, in presenting his own defense without appointed legal assistance."  Although the North Carolina Supreme Court in Townes denied a right to counsel, finding that there was "no absolute due process right to counsel in all civil paternity suits," the court seemed to leave the door open for case-by-case determinations in future proceedings where no liberty interest is at stake.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no