Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Legislation, Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Accused Parents

Upon the filing of an ex parte petition alleging abuse, R.I. Gen. Laws § 40-11-7.1(b) (entitled "Human Services – Abused and Neglected Children -- Family court proceedings") specifies that "[a] hearing on the petition shall be held within seven (7) days from the filing thereof, for the court to: … (4) Appoint an attorney to represent the parent or parents or any other person having care of the child alleged to have abused or neglected a child when the parent or custodian is unable to afford representation, as determined by the court."  R.I. Juv. P., Rule 15(c)(4) echoes the same language.  While this sounds like an absolute right to counsel for the parent, R.I. Gen. Laws § 40-11-14 (which is entitled "Right to representation in court proceedings" and is in the same chapter) specifies that "If the parent or other person responsible for the child's care is financially unable to engage counsel as determined by the court, the court may, at the request of that person, and in its discretion, appoint the public defender, or other council [sic], to represent the person" (emphasis added). It is unclear whether § 40-11-7.1(b) simply requires the court to apply the discretion in § 40-11-14 or whether § 40-11-7.1(b) provides an absolute right to counsel for the initial ex parte hearing only. 

 

However, there is also R.I. Gen. Laws § 14-1-31 (entitled "Delinquent and Dependent Children -- Proceedings in Family Court—Services of public defender"), which specifies, "Prior to the commencement of any hearing, the justice shall advise the parent or guardian of any child, or the adult involved, as the case may be, that if he or she is financially unable to engage counsel, he or she is entitled to the services of the public defender."  R.I. Gen. Laws § 14-1-3(6) defines "dependent" as used in this particular title as covering "any child who requires the protection and assistance of the court when his or her physical or mental health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm due to the inability of the parent or guardian, through no fault of the parent or guardian, to provide the child with a minimum degree of care or proper supervision because of: (i) The death or illness of a parent; or (ii) The special medical, educational, or social service needs of the child which the parent is unable to provide."

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no