Supreme Court Rules Right to Lawyer Begins At First Court Appearance
The Supreme Court ruled today that the right to a lawyer begins when a defendant if first brought before a magistrate or judge after arrest, even if prosecutors were not involved in the arrest or court appearance. The Court expressly rejects the "prosecutorial awareness" test. The case is Rothgery v. Gillespie County, No. 07-0440. The opinion is here (pdf).
The court ruled 8-1 Monday in favor of Walter Rothgery, whose request for a lawyer was denied by local Texas authorities for six months. Rothgery was arrested in Texas for carrying a gun as a convicted felon, based on a background check that erroneously showed a felony drug conviction in California.
A lawyer would have quickly shown that the report of the previous conviction was mistaken, which would have eliminated the reason for the arrest in the first place.
The issue for the Court was, "Whether the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches to defendants brought before a magistrate and jailed pending posting of bond if prosecutors were not involved in the arrest or court appearance."[More...]
The petitioner, Walter Rothgery, maintains that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested and brought before a magistrate who informed him of the accusation against him, found probable cause, and sent him to jail pending the posting of bail or the disposition of charges, but when respondent Gillespie County failed to appoint counsel for him until after he was indicted.
From the introduction to the opinion:
A criminal defendant’s initial appearance before a magistrate judge, where he learns the charge against him and his liberty is subject
to restriction, marks the initiation of adversary judicial proceedings that trigger attachment of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
Attachment does not also require that a prosecutor (as distinct from a police officer) be aware of that initial proceeding or involved in its conduct.
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