Monday, December 10, 2018

Providing Counsel For Indigents in Civil Matters

For several decades now, states have used the suspension of driver and professional licenses of those who are not paying court ordered child support.  The process is controversial.  Suspension of a professional license might prompt a recalcitrant doctor or lawyer to pay up.  But even in those cases it seems counterintuitive to withdraw a license that permits the responsible parent to earn money while seeking to enforce a child support order. 

The practice crosses over to human rights violation, however, when the state suspends a driver's license from indigent people who have no way to find work without transportation.  Deprivation of transportation results not only in loss of work, but lack of contact with family and friends, lack of access to educational and medical services, and daily routine disruption for those with few resources to find alternative transport. 

Now a New Jersey court has found that the practice of suspending an indigent's driver's license with appointed counsel for a hearing on the suspension the process is not constitutional under New Jersey law.  In Kavadas, et al v Martinez the court held that "a driver's license suspension is a consequence magnitude that triggers the right to counsel in criminal and municipal cases."  The New Jersey Supreme Court previously held that fundamental fairness guarantees the right to counsel at proceedings in which substantial interests are at stake.  

Editors' note:  Thanks to John Pollock of the National Council for a Civil Right to Counsel for bringing our attention to this important case.

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