Right to counsel

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Litigation, Civil Commitment

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the right to counsel extends to involuntary commitment proceedings, pursuant to the due process clause of the Alaska Constitution. See Wetherhorn v. Alaska Psychiatric Inst., 156 P.3d 371 (Alaska 2007).  In Wetherhorn, the respondent challenged her 30-day involuntary commitment and the non-consensual administration of psychotropic medication. Id. at 373.  She claimed that she was deprived of her right to counsel during the hearing, because her counsel failed to deploy a number of strategies that may have been pertinent to her case. Id. at 383. 


The Court first explained that the right to counsel in Alaska Stat. § 47.30.725(d) “includes both the right to effective counsel and the right to challenge court orders based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.” Id.[1]  The Court then added that because “a respondent's fundamental rights to liberty and to privacy are infringed upon by involuntary commitment and involuntary administration of psychotropic medication proceedings, the right to counsel in civil proceedings is guaranteed by the due process clause of the Alaska Constitution.” Id. (citing Alaska Const. Art. I, § 7; V.F. v. State, 666 P.2d 42, 45, n.2 [Alaska 1983]).  The Court also noted that, “the right to challenge a court order based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel derives necessarily from the right to the effective assistance of counsel.” Id. at 384.

[1] Alaska Statute § 47.30.725(d) states that “the respondent has the right to be represented by an attorney, to present evidence, and to cross-examine witnesses who testify against the respondent at the hearing.”

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no