Monday, June 20, 2011

No automatic right to lawyer in US civil cases: court

The US Supreme Court in Washington
© AFP/File Karen Bleier

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that states did not have an automatic duty to provide counsel in civil courts in the case of a divorced father who was jailed for failing to pay child support.

By a majority 5-4 vote, the justices found that while the South Carolina father's rights had been violated because he was not given free counsel, US states did not have to provide such advice in all civil contempt cases.

The case was being highly watched and had become emblematic of what civil rights groups have called a trend towards "debtors' prisons" in America.

In the case before the Supreme Court, Michael Turner had been ordered to pay $51.73 a week in child support. But he had regularly fallen behind, and spent short spells in prison.

On his fifth infraction, the South Carolina family court sentenced him to six months in jail. But on his release he was $5,728 in arrears, and was then sentenced to 12 months in jail.

Turner appealed arguing his constitutional rights had been violated as he had not been given access to free counsel -- as is normal in criminal cases -- to argue that he had been unable to pay the funds due during his jail term.

In Monday's majority decision, the court ruled that a constitutional amendment "does not automatically require the State to provide counsel at civil contempt proceedings to an indigent noncustodial parent who is subject to a child support order, even if that individual faces incarceration."

It found that such a requirement could put the other parent at a disadvantage if they could not afford a lawyer creating "an asymmetry of representation that would alter significantly the nature of the proceeding."

Instead, recognizing that ability to pay is key in many child support cases, it called on the government to ensure safeguards were put in place, to significantly reduce the risk of an erroneous deprivation of liberty."

The ruling triggered a sharp response from the Constitution Project, a bipartisan group working for reform of the justice system.

The ruling "undermines the fundamental fairness of our justice system, putting Americans in danger of losing their liberty simply because they cannot afford a lawyer," it said in a statement.

"Michael Turner was incarcerated for one year because of his failure to pay court-ordered child support. Although his inability to pay would have constituted a legal defense to incarceration, Mr. Turner was unable to prove his inability to pay to the court.

"With this decision, the Supreme Court has effectively endorsed the expansion of the unjust use of debtors' prisons in America," it added.

© AFP -- Published at Activist Post with license

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Anonymous said...

wow. the US is gone. We are Communist China now. The Supreme Ct keeps ruling for the govt and not the people. Come Jesus come.

Anonymous said...

These judges will face the judgement of the All Mighty. It is a day I look forward to watching.

Anonymous said...

slavery [ˈsleɪvərɪ]
1. (Law) the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune
2. the subjection of a person to another person, esp in being forced into work

Anonymous said...

If a woman can’t afford to support her children she gets government assistance. If a man can’t afford to support his children he gets government jail.

Anonymous said...

This prison merry go round for child support has some dads in prison for years. This story is not unusual.... I do not know what is more insane, a system that expects blood from a stone while in prison or the rulings that come down from the courts that imprison them.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry but people waiting for the "All Mighty" to end these problems are worse than the people causing the problems.
No greater evil in man than the indecision to end evil.

Take action.

Anonymous said...

It really doesn't matter anyways. public defenders never have the clients best interests in mind anyways, they serve the state that pays them. Either way there judgment is unconstitutional and treasonous, but it really doesn't actually matter. A person might have better luck representing himself then using counsel provided by the state.

BeJesus said...

Yes They declared me dead Voided my trade mark, left all debts by incorporating, Then continue cover ups and more pathetic frame jobs making court appointed counsel rich while they refuse to do anything about the police relatives stealing my companion Shepard dog and charging me with assault for getting him back The more ridiculousness the better for them Till they shrug there shoulders on way bye our Creator to eternal self-imposed deafening anguish

Fred said...

These poor kids who know that their father is unjustly in jail. They must have scars for life.

Anonymous said...

i suppose my confusion is caused by the judge's decision not to allow council for the father (or in more rare cases, the mother). in our state, the state is the prosecutor and the father the defendant. the state has a lawyer, so wouldn't it be fair to appoint a lawyer for the defendant? to say it would be unfair because the mother wouldn't be represented, by a lawyer, is incorrect. it is indeed the father who is unfairly represented. though i agree, court appointed lawyers do not have the defendants issues at heart.

Anonymous said...

First off the max for a civil case is 180 days! Anymore than that would be criminal! You cant be charged with the same crime twice its double jeopardy! Prosecutors in USA get 5% of the money they bring in! They are making millions in the name of single mothers! In this case sue the judge and file a complaint with the judicial qualifications!

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