CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, December 3, 2007

SCOTUS Takes a Right to Counsel Case

Court_front_med From The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to further clarify when a suspect taken into custody by police has a right to a lawyer. The question is whether that right sets in when an individual has been taken before a magistrate, who finds reason to believe a crime has been committed and sends the individual to jail, or whether it only ataches when a prosecutor prepares to or makes a charge.

The new right-to-counsel case, Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas (07-440), the Justices will hear, with oral argument likely in March, involves a Fredericksburg, Texas, man, Walter Allen Rothgery, who sought but was denied the aid of an attorney when he appeared before a magistrate at a probable cause hearing. The magistrate found probable cause to support a charge that Rothgery was a felon who had a gun; Rothgery was sent to jail. He was released on bond, but rearrested later after a grand jury indicted him. Once he obtained a lawyer, the charges were dismissed; the felony allegation against him turned out to have been an error because charges against him in California had been dismissed.

Rothgery sued the county in a civil rights lawsuit over the denial of a lawyer at the first hearing. The County opposed the lawsuit, contending that the right to counsel did not attach until he actually had been indicted — a claim ultimately upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court.  Rothgery’s appeal was supported by 22 law professors urging the Justices to clarify when the right to counsel attaches.

Rest of Article. . .[Mark Godsey]

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