Massachusetts Supreme Court Rule 3:10: Assignment of Counsel

This court rule establishes new procedures for Massachusetts courts to determine defendants’ ability to pay and for courts to assess fees for public counsel based on that determination. The rule also prohibits courts from assessing counsel fees on justice-involved youth without an ability-to-pay hearing and mandates that the court accept additional ability to pay evidence for both adult and juvenile defendants.

You can read the full text of Court Rule 3:10 here. 

Key provisions
  • Courts shall determine a defendant’s indigence with an ability to pay hearing, and if the court finds that the defendant is indigent or indigent but able to contribute, the defendant shall be assigned public counsel.
  • Defendants can request a public defender for ability to pay hearings.
  • Even if the defendant is deemed indigent but able to contribute or not indigent, the judge may choose to change this determination because of factors not typically considered in ability to pay hearings, such as receipt of Medicaid benefits.
  • All juvenile defendants will be entitled to a public defender, but if the juvenile’s parent or guardian is not determined to be indigent (or indigent but able to contribute), the judge shall assess a juvenile legal fee according to ability to pay (“a reasonable amount”) where failure to pay does not result in revocation of counsel.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Ralph Gants