Right to counsel - prisoners

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Litigation, Prisoners

In Payne v. Superior Court, 17 Cal. 3d 908 (1976), the Supreme Court of California vacated a default judgment against an inmate sued for civil money damages and unable to either obtain an attorney or appear personally to defend himself. Although the court made clear that not all indigents have a right to appointed counsel in civil cases, it found that if the state would not allow the incarcerated prisoner to appear personally in court, then counsel had to be appointed in order to protect the inmate's fundamental property interest. The Payne court made no suggestion that the right to counsel depended on the existence of a threat to physical liberty, but rather grounded its opinion on the due process right to access the courts. The court rendered its decision based on both the California and U.S. Constitutions.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes