In re C.M.Annotate this Case
This case came before the Supreme Court from an interlocutory transfer without ruling from the superior court on the following question: "Does the Due Process Clause of the New Hampshire Constitution (Part I, Articles 2 and 15) or the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution require the appointment of counsel for an indigent parent from whom the State seeks to take custody of a minor child based on allegations of neglect or abuse?" Parents Larry and Sonia M. were served with petitions by which the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) sought custody of their two minor children C.M and A.M. DCYF alleged that the parents were neglecting their children by failing to provide a safe and sanitary home and adequate supervision and by exposing them to domestic violence in the form of threatening and intimidating behaviors by the father. An adjudicatory hearing was held at which the parents were represented by appointed counsel. The court issued an order maintaining legal custody of the children with DCYF and directing the parents to undertake certain measures before the children might be safely returned to them. Each parent filed an appeal to superior court contending that without appointed counsel, their protected liberty interest in raising their children was threatened. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that while due process did not require that counsel be appointed for indigent parents in every proceeding (such as the proceeding at issue in this case), a determination of whether appointed counsel is necessary to adequately reduce the risk of erroneous deprivation should be made on a case-by-case basis in the first instance by the trial court. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the superior court to make that determination.