Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Legislation, Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

In State ex rel. Cody v. Toner, 8 Ohio St. 3d 22, 24, 456 N.E.2d 813, 815 (Ohio 1983), the Ohio Supreme Court found a federal and state constitutional due process right to counsel for the putative father in state-initiated paternity actions in which the complainant-mother and her child are recipients of public assistance. The court employed the three-part balancing test from Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893 (1976) and  concluded that those factors — the significance of the private interest affected, the risk of harm to that interest if no counsel were appointed, and the burden of that additional safeguard on the state — warranted the appointment of counsel in this context. 


The court first noted that the interests at stake — "the creation of a parent-child relationship" as well as "the putative father's pecuniary interest in avoiding a substantial support obligation and liberty interest threatened by the possible sanctions for noncompliance" — were substantial. Regarding the second factor, the court stated, "[e]mphasizing the fact that the paternity case below was initiated at the state's insistence and prosecuted at the state's expense, we realize that appellant is presented with a formidable task if he should be required to defend himself."  Quoting its prior observations in State ex rel. Heller v. Miller, 399 N.E.2d 66, 70 (Ohio 1980) regarding the likely ineffectiveness of a pro se appeal, the court stated that "[t]his reasoning is applicable, if not more compelling, with regard to cases at the trial level."  The court explained that in light of the particular circumstances of paternity cases, which implicate statutory rights to certain types of blood tests and a "likelihood that expert witnesses will be called to testify," it "appears that one unknowledgeable of his rights and unskilled in the art of advocacy could easily go astray in conducting his defense."  The court continued, "It can only be assumed that court-appointed counsel would provide adequate protection against these dangers."  Because the court found that the state's "financial stake in providing appellant with court-appointed counsel during the paternity proceedings is hardly significant enough to overcome the private interests involved," it held that the state was obligated to appoint counsel.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no