Right to counsel

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Litigation, Civil Contempt in Family Court

In Black v. Div. of Child Support Enforcement, the Delaware Supreme Court said that in state-initiated contempt cases, a trial judge must first determine whether a defendant faces a possibility of incarceration; if the defendant does, then "due process requires counsel be appointed for the indigent obligor."  The court added that it could appoint counsel even if there was no threat of incarceration:

 

If after weighing these factors a court determines that, as a matter of due process and fundamental fairness, the defendant should be represented, then counsel should be appointed even if a loss of physical liberty is not threatened. In balancing the Mathews factors6 against the Lassiter presumption, a court should be sensitive to protecting the due process rights of the indigent defendant. Should one side of the analysis not clearly outweigh the other, the court should err on the side of appointing counsel in order to further the due process right to fundamental fairness in judicial proceedings.


Because the court limited its holding to state-initiated contempt cases, its ruling is likely unaffected by the U.S. Supreme Court's holdlng in Turner v. Rogers.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes