WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- A defendant's right to counsel begins when he first hears the charges against him and is jailed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.
In a case from Texas, the court ruled 8-1 that a magistrate hearing, even without the prosecution present, marked the beginning of the "adversarial judicial proceedings that trigger attachment of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel."
Walter Rothgery was mistakenly arrested on a gun charge and wasn't provided counsel when he went before a magistrate, informally called an article 15.17 hearing, when the charge was read and bail was set. He made several oral and written requests for counsel "which went unheeded," the court opinion said.
"The issue is whether Texas's article 15.17 hearing marks that point, with the consequent state obligation to appoint counsel within a reasonable time once a request for assistance is made," Justice David Souter said in the majority opinion. "When the Court of Appeals said no, because no prosecutor was aware of (the hearing), the court effectively focused not on the start of adversarial judicial proceedings, but on the activities and knowledge of a particular state official ... . This was error."
Souter was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito joined. Roberts filed a concurring opinion in which Scalia joined. Alito filed a concurring opinion in which Roberts and Scalia joined. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissent.