Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas case brief

Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas case brief summary
554 U.S. 191 (2008)

Petitioner accused sued respondent county pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that hisSixth Amendment right to counsel was violated by the county's unwritten policy of denying appointed counsel to indigent defendants out on bond until at least the entry of an information or indictment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the county. Certiorari was granted.

The issue was whether attachment of the right to counsel required that a public prosecutor (as distinct from a police officer) be aware of a first appearance or involved in its conduct. Specifically, the question was whether a Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 15.17 hearing marked that point, with the consequent state obligation to appoint counsel within a reasonable time once a request for assistance was made.

  • Prior case law clearly established that the right to counsel attached at the initial appearance before a judicial officer. The article 15.17 hearing was an initial appearance as the accused was taken before a magistrate judge, informed of the formal accusation against him, and sent to jail until he posted bail. 
  • The lower court's attachment standard, which depended on whether a prosecutor had a hand in starting the adversarial judicial proceedings, was wrong. 
  • Under the federal standard, an accusation filed with a judicial officer was sufficiently formal, and the government's commitment to prosecute it sufficiently concrete, when the accusation prompted arraignment and restrictions on the accused's liberty to facilitate the prosecution.


The judgment was vacated. The case was remanded for further proceedings. 8-1 decision; 2 concurrences; 1 dissent.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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