A defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel begins at his first appearance before a magistrate, whether or not a prosecutor is also on hand, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday, according to Legal Times. The 8-to-1 ruling dealt with a Texas “magistration” procedure under which a defendant goes before a magistrate judge, has bail set, and can be imprisoned without the involvement of a prosecutor or the appointment of defense counsel.
The case involved Walter Rothgery, who was picked up in Fredericksburg, Tx., based on an erroneous California police report and was arrested as a felon with a firearm. He was jailed but posted bail. It was not until six months after his initial appearance before a judge that counsel was appointed — at which point the lawyer documented the erroneous report and got the indictment dismissed. The decision may have limited impact because 43 states appoint counsel for indigent defendants before or just after the initial appearance before a judge. In the other states — Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia — procedures in many cases conform to the court’s ruling.