The American Civil Liberties Union is taking two Beaufort County cities to court over the way they take their poor residents to court.
A class action lawsuit has been filed against the city of Beaufort and the town of Bluffton by the civil rights organization on behalf of several people alleging that the municipalities have not provided representation for poor defendants facing jail sentences.
The suit claims that “each week in South Carolina’s municipal courts, defendants are prosecuted, convicted, and jailed without having a lawyer appointed to their case, or ever even being advised of their right to counsel.”
If true, the suit alleges, that would be a violation of constitutional protections under the Sixth Amendment, which, in part, grants a right for defendants to have the “assistance of counsel” in their defense. It would also, according to the suit, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
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According to the suit, most of the 212 municipal courts in the Palmetto State allegedly fail to provide representation for their poor defendants who could end up facing jail time.
That lack of protection is unique to municipal courts, the suit alleges, citing the Beaufort County Detention Center Inmate Handbook, which discusses the right to appointed counsel for general sessions court but not for municipal court.
The Island Packet reported on this issue before in 2013 and is quoted in the lawsuit.
No court date has yet been set for the case to be heard.