Pennsylvania

This page provides a breakdown of all major developments and right to counsel law that the NCCRC knows for this state, sorted by subject area. Click on either tab below to see the aspect it describes.

Color Key Explanation
Categorical Right To Counsel There is a right to counsel without qualification for all indigent individuals in this type of case (except that the individual may be required to request counsel).
Discretionary Appointment Of Counsel Courts are permitted but not required to appoint counsel for any indigent individual in this type of case. A request may be required.
Right Or Appointment Is Qualified The established right to counsel or discretionary appointment of counsel is limited in some way, including: the only authority comes from a lower/intermediate court decision or a city government, not a high court or state legislature; a case has cast doubt on prior authority; a statute is ambiguous; or the right or discretionary appointment is not for all individuals or proceedings within that type of case.
No Such Proceeding This state has no law creating a judicial proceeding of this type.
None While this state does not provide for or require appointment of counsel with respect to the given subject area, it does have something (such as a report or bar policy) that supports the right to or appointment of counsel for this subject area.
Other Because the "Other subject areas” category can include developments from different subject areas that do not work the same way as each other, a blanket categorization of this category is not possible.

Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Accused Parents

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Indigent parents have a right to counsel in abuse/neglect cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

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Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Children

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Children in abuse/neglect cases are entitled to a GAL who is an attorney.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

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All Basic Human Needs

Legislation

Pennsylvania hearings on civil legal aid discuss right to counsel

01/01/2013

The PA Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in 2013 about the civil legal justice gap, and many people testified about a right to counsel.

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Litigation

Key_development Question_mark

Discretionary appointment of cousel

A lower court held that incorporated English common law gave the court the power to appoint counsel in any civil case.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: yes

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Bar Effort

Philadelphia Bar Chancellor Joins Chorus for Civil Right to Counsel

12/09/2015

New Philadelphia Bar Chancellor Gaetan Alfano has said that civil right to counsel will be a priority during his term.

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Report

PA urged to take steps towards a civil right to counsel

05/02/2014

A new report issued by the Civil Legal Justice Coalition to the PA State Senate Judiciary Committee urges PA to pursue a civil right to counsel.

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Bypass of Parental Input into Abortion - Minor

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

A minor has a right to counsel in seeking to bypass parental consent to have an abortion.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

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Civil Commitment - Subject of Petition

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

There is a right to counsel for the subject of a civil commitment proceeding.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

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Litigation

Right to counsel

Two Pennsylvania courts have suggested that counsel is constitutionally required in civil commitment proceedings.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

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Civil Forfeiture

Legislation

Legislation: civil forfeiture

04/12/2017

This bill would provide a right to counsel for certain owners in civil forfeiture proceedings.

Read more about this

Litigation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

A lower court stated that there may be a right to counsel in certain civil forfeiture proceedings.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

Read more about this

Custody Disputes - Children

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Discretionary appointment of counsel

A court may appoint counsel for a child in a private custody proceeding.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no

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Court Rule or Initiative

Key_development Question_mark

Discretionary appointment of counsel

A court may appoint counsel for the child in various kinds of private custody proceedings.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no

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Guardianship/Conservatorship of Adults - Ward

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Discretionary appointment of counsel

There is discretionary appointment of counsel for the subject of a guardianship, and mandatory if the person is in a state mental hospital.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no

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Housing - Evictions

Legislation

Philly City Council funds expanded counsel for tenants

06/29/2017

The Philadelphia City Council has been examining how to solve landlord/tenant issues, including considering a right to counsel for tenants.

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Incarceration for Fees/Fines (incomplete)

Litigation

PA court: fees/fines defendants have right to appointed counsel

04/30/2018

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held defendants have a right to appointed counsel prior to being incarcerated for failure to pay fees/fines.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

 

Nccrc_involvement_icon

The NCCRC filed an amicus brief in the case calling for a constitutional right to counsel.

Read more about this

Court Rule or Initiative

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

A court rule provides a right to counsel when incarceration is threatened for failure to pay criminal fines and fees.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

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Involuntary Medical Treatment

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Minors have a right to appointed counsel when being subjected to involuntary drug or alcohol treatment.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

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Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

Litigation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Several lower courts found a federal constitutional right to counsel for respondents in state-initiated paternity cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

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Sexually Dangerous Persons - Commitment

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

There is a right to counsel for indigent respondents in sexually violent person commitment proceedings.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

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Sexually Dangerous Persons - Registration/Notification

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Pennsylvania adds right to counsel for sex offender registration proceedings

02/21/2018

A bill passed in 2018 guarantees counsel for proceedings to determine the need for sexually violent predator registration.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

Read more about this

Termination of Parental Rights (Private) - Children

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Children have a right to counsel in contested adoption cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

Read more about this

Termination of Parental Rights (State) - Children

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Children have a right to counsel in termination of parental rights cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

Read more about this

Litigation

Key_development Question_mark

PA Supreme Court: children have right to counsel in termination proceedings

03/28/2017

The PA Supreme Court held that children have a right to the appointment of client-directed counsel in termination proceedings.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

 

Nccrc_involvement_icon The NCCRC worked with the petitioner and collaborated on an amicus brief.

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Termination of Parental Rights (Private) - Birth Parents

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Indigent parents have a right to counsel in contested adoption cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

Read more about this

Litigation

Right to counsel

The PA Supreme Court found a due process right to counsel in private termination of parental rights cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

Read more about this

Termination of Parental Rights (State) - Birth Parents

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Indigent parents have a right to counsel in termination of parental rights cases.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

Read more about this

Litigation

Right to counsel

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found a due process right to counsel in termination of parental rights cases, although case is in some doubt.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes

Read more about this

Truancy - Petition Against Child

Legislation

Key_development Question_mark

Right to counsel

Children in Pennsylvania have a right to counsel in truancy cases (which are handled as dependency matters).

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

Read more about this

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