Lassiter v. Department of Social Services
Facts: Mom (Lassiter) was neglecting her son in 1975. Then she murdered someone in 1976 giving her 25 – 40 years in prison. Two more years pass and she doesn’t contact her son. The Department of Social Services files a petition to permanently terminate her parental rights. If this happens she would never see her son again.
Problems with the trial: Lassiter foolishly chose not to have counsel. She didn’t stop the prosecution for submitting hearsay testimony. The cross-examination was a disaster because Lassiter did not actually ask questions.
Defendant’s appeals: Lassiter claimed that she was indigent and should have had a lawyer. She is claiming that the court violated her 14th Amendment due process right. She wants a retrial.
Holding: Lassiter is not given a retrial.
- There is a pre-eminent generalization that everyone has the right to an attorney. It is only reserved for people in big trouble who risk the chance of losing personal liberty
- Interest of the plaintiff: Huge! She doesn’t want to have her son taken away
- Interest of the government: they mostly care about time and money
- Concern for whether the trial will result in an erroneous decision and obstruct rights
· Every issue needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case circumstance
· There is overwhelming evidence that regardless of what Lassiter says, she didn’t really care about her son. Because of this, it wouldn’t matter if she had a lawyer or not
Dissent: Taking someone’s child is a unique kind of deprivation. Regardless of if the case would have come out the same whether Lassiter had a judge or not, it does not mean that due process should be denied.
Rule: There is no absolute right to an attorney. Every case needs to be looked at individually.
Problems: This is not efficient because it means that there needs to be a “pre-case” case to determine if there is the right to an attorney. It is not accurate because lawyers know the rules of law, and leaving defendants without a lawyer won’t produce accurate results.