Amdt5.4.4.5.2 Parental and Children's Rights

Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

In a case involving a state proceeding to terminate the parental rights of an indigent without providing her counsel, the Court recognized the parent’s interest as an extremely important one. The Court, however, also noted the state’s strong interest in protecting the welfare of children. Thus, as the interest in correct fact-finding was strong on both sides, the proceeding was relatively simple, no features were present raising a risk of criminal liability, no expert witnesses were present, and no specially troublesome substantive or procedural issues had been raised, the litigant did not have a right to appointed counsel.1 In other due process cases involving parental rights, the Court has held that due process requires special state attention to parental rights.2 Thus, it would appear likely that in other parental right cases, a right to appointed counsel could be established.

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1452 U.S. at 27–31. The decision was a five-to-four, with Justices Stewart, White, Powell, and Rehnquist and Chief Justice Burger in the majority, and Justices Blackmun, Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens in dissent. Id. at 35, 59.
  2.  Jump to essay-2See, e.g., Little v. Streater, 452 U.S. 1 (1981) (indigent entitled to state-funded blood testing in a paternity action the state required to be instituted); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982) (imposition of higher standard of proof in case involving state termination of parental rights).