Right to counsel

Litigation, Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

In Salas v. Cortez, 593 P.2d 226 (Cal. 1979), the California Supreme Court held that due process under the state and federal constitutions requires appointment of counsel to represent indigent defendants in paternity proceedings in which the state appears as a party or appears on behalf of a mother or child.


The court noted that "[a]n adjudication of paternity may profoundly affect a person's life" since it might "disrupt an established family and damage reputations."  Further, "a court's determination of paternity exposes a defendant to deprivation of property and, potentially, liberty" since failure to pay child support is enforceable by garnishment of wages and via criminal proceedings. Moreover, the Salas majority found that "[w]hile an indigent is entitled to counsel if prosecuted criminally for nonsupport, the most significant element of the offense paternity may have already been determined in a civil proceeding in which the defendant was unrepresented by counsel."

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes