Right to Counsel in Municipal. Court Probable Cause Hearings – State v. Dennis

In today’s Supreme Court decision in State v. Dennis, the Justices ruled that a defendant who requests a probable cause hearing in municipal court to challenge the sufficiency of the indictable charges in a pending complaint has the right to have counsel appointed to represent him. Although not mentioned by the Justices, presumably the Court intends that the appointment of counsel be limited to indigent defendants, although that is not clear from the opinion. However, the United States Supreme Court decision upon which the Justices relied, Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1 (1970), dealt with the appointment of counsel for an indigent at a preliminary hearing.

Apart from mandating the appointment of counsel at these hearings, the Court did not specify who would be responsible for appointing the attorney or paying for the services. Accordingly, it is not clear if the municipal court judge and municipal court public defender will be involved or whether the assignment will be controlled by action in the Superior Court with participation by the Office of the Public Defender or attorneys from the so-called Madden list (Madden v. Township of Delran,126 N.J. 591(1992)).

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