In the Shadow of Gideon: No Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel at Parole Revocation Hearings

6 Howard Human and Civil Rights Law Review,31 (2021)

52 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2022

Date Written: 2021


Unlike the drama that unfolds at a criminal trial before a judicial body, representing parolees at revocation hearings attracts minimal intellectual curiosity from academic scholars, and is foreign to most members of the bar. The law establishing due process rights at revocation hearings has primarily remained unchanged, and novel legal challenges are rare. Recent social unrests have forced the United States to open its eyes and become more “woke” to the racial and economic disparities inherent in our criminal legal system. It is therefore imperative that we examine the critical role lawyers play at every stage of the criminal system, in an effort to upend a justice system gone amiss. There is a glaring absence of the right to counsel at parole revocation hearings, even though the stakes are high, and loss of freedom is routinely the outcome. The movement towards making fairness of the law more attainable for everyone must include securing due process rights for those impacted long after the trial has ended and out of the public eye. The due process right to counsel at sentencing must extend to parole revocation hearings where sentencing routinely takes place and loss of liberty is a reality.

Every person facing parole revocation must be appointed counsel to guard against the administration of rouge justice. This is especially true considering that parole revocation hearings, like trials, can have dire consequences for individuals, their families and the community. At the micro level, findings of violation and sentences imposed at parole revocation hearings permanently impact the trajectory of a person’s life as they struggle to untangle themselves from the criminal legal web and rejoin society. On a more macro scale, parole violators who are returned to prison are one of the major contributors to mass incarceration rates, even though most individuals are revoked for technical violations, such as missing meetings and addiction relapse.

In this Article, we will revisit the evolution of due process rights afforded to persons who are facing revocation as developed by Supreme Court case law, examine how parole revocations result in increased prison population rates and the costs associated thereto, and scrutinize the quagmire of state and federal court decisions regarding the right to counsel at such hearings. This Article concludes by urging the Supreme Court to finish the task left undone in Morrissey v. Brewer,1 and tackle the legal question of the right to counsel as a minimal due process guarantee.

Keywords: Gideon, Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel, Parole, Parole Revocation

Suggested Citation

Moyd, Olinda, In the Shadow of Gideon: No Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel at Parole Revocation Hearings (2021). 6 Howard Human and Civil Rights Law Review,31 (2021), Available at SSRN:

Olinda Moyd (Contact Author)

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