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State of Utah v. Paul Johnson (2002)

26 November 2002 Published in Resolved Cases

Indigent Defense - On July 10, 2002, the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) petitioned the Juvenile Court to substantiate its investigative findings, which asserted that Paul Johnson had abused his children as defined by the Utah Code. This charge is a Class B misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to six months imprisonment and possible termination of parental rights.

The purpose of a substantiation hearing is to provide DCFS an opportunity to bring evidence against a parent to determine whether there is sufficient proof to formally charge that parent with child abuse and conduct a prosecutorial trial against him or her. Johnson has denied the accusations and requested that the court appoint him counsel to represent him during the substantiation hearing.

At the request of Third District Juvenile Court Judge Joseph W. Anderson, on October 28, 2002, we filed a memorandum in support of the motion for appointed counsel. In our brief, we argued that while the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for the right to appointed counsel only at critical stages of the prosecution during adversarial proceedings, the Utah Code provides an even broader provision for the right to appointed counsel during "every stage of the proceedings," and that Johnson is therefore entitled to court-appointed counsel. On November 26, 2002, Deputy District Attorney Brent Cameron filed the county’s voluntary dismissal of its objection in the case, and concluded that the county must appoint counsel for indigent parents, guardians, and custodians who are facing child abuse substantiation hearings in the Third District Juvenile Court. In order to qualify for appointed counsel, the court must first find that the parent or guardian is indigent.