Right to counsel

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Litigation, Child Support Enforcement (Civil Contempt)

In Smoot v. Dingess, 236 S.E.2d 468 (W.Va. 1977), the Supreme Court of West Virginia held that indigents in civil contempt proceedings have a right to counsel. Previously, the court had found in Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. Doe, 220 S.E.2d 672 (W. Va. 1975), that criminal contemnors have a right to counsel, although Doe had not clarified whether this was based on the federal or state constitution. In Smoot, the court relied upon Doe to summarily hold, "Regardless of whether a contempt proceeding is civil or criminal, a defendant has the right to be represented by counsel, and if he is indigent counsel must be appointed to represent him." 

 

In Moore v. Hall, 341 S.E.2d 703 (W. Va. 1986), the court revisited its decisions regarding civil contempt (including Smoot), and without citing Lassiter, it simply held, "Without embarking on an extended discussion of the law elsewhere, we believe the principle is firmly established in our jurisdiction that an indigent defendant is entitled to a court-appointed attorney where he is charged by way of contempt for failing to pay court-ordered alimony or support payments."

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no