Right to counsel

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Litigation, Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

In Reynolds v. Kimmons, 569 P.2d 799, 803 (Alaska 1977), the Alaska Supreme Court held that an indigent defendant has a right to the appointment of counsel in a paternity suit in which the plaintiff is represented by the state.[1]  The Court based its decision on the due process clause of the Alaska Constitution. Id. at 801.  In upholding the right to counsel, the Court noted that, “principles justifying appointment of counsel in criminal cases also apply to certain civil or quasi-civil proceedings.” Id.  The Court observed that, for example, “a parent of a child under sixteen years of age who willfully fails to furnish support, without lawful excuse, may be held criminally liable and subject to a fine of not more than $500.00 or imprisonment for not more than twelve months or both.” Id.  Due to the possibility of a loss of liberty, due process requires the appointment of counsel. Id.  Additionally, the Court pointed out that paternity suits are brought by the state and “a determination of one of society's most important relationships, that of parent-child, is at stake.” Id. at 802.  These are also important considerations that lead to the right to counsel in paternity cases. Id.

[1] The court noted that “The lawsuit was initiated by the Child Support Enforcement Agency, although the suit was brought in the name of the child's mother.” Id. at 802.


Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes