In re J.R., ___ N.C. App. ___, 791 S.E.2d 922 (2016)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • G.S. 7B-602(a1) states the court “may” allow a parent to proceed pro se when the court finds that the parent makes a knowing and voluntary waiver of appointed counsel. The use of the word “may” means the court has discretion when determining whether a parent may proceed without the assistance of counsel; the court is not required to allow the respondent parent to proceed pro se.
  • A parent does not have a statutory or constitutional right to self-representation. Previous language in the Juvenile Code that provided for the right to self-representation was removed by amendments made to the Code since 1998. The Sixth Amendment addresses the right to self-representation and applies to criminal proceedings; it does not apply to abuse, neglect, or dependency proceedings.
  • The court did not abuse its discretion in denying the respondent mother’s request  to proceed pro se. In support of its decision, the court found the mother’s waiver was not knowing and voluntary as
    • she was facing potential criminal charges that were related to the incident resulting in the abuse and neglect proceeding and she would not be able to protect herself from self-incrimination if she were to proceed pro se, and
    • she was being influenced and possibly coerced by her abusive boyfriend (who was a caretaker in the action) to request that her counsel be released so that she could proceed pro se.
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Appointment of Counsel
Topic:
Waiver
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