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S.C. Supreme Court Upholds Jail Time for Indigent Parents

April 12, 2010


April 12, 2010

S.C. Supreme Court Upholds Jail Time for Indigent Parents

In South Carolina, family court judges can throw indigent parents behind bars for non-payment of child support even if they cannot afford attorneys.

In a March 29 ruling (Price v. Turner, opinion no. 26793), which was ignored by other media outlets, the S.C. Supreme Court affirmed a family court’s decision to incarcerate an indigent defendant who appeared without counsel for nonpayment of child support. The Court’s ruling, rejecting arguments that the lower court violated the defendant’s constitutional rights under the 6th and 14th amendments, effectively means defendants in civil contempt proceedings in South Carolina do not have a right to counsel before being incarcerated. The Palmetto State is one of only five states that don’t guarantee indigent parents the right to counsel in civil contempt hearings that can result in jail time.

“We recognize that … we are adopting the minority position,” Chief Justice Jean Toal, writing for the court, said in a footnote in the ruling. “However, we are persuaded that the minority position held by Florida, Maine, New Hampshire and New Mexico is sound and in keeping with controlling precedent.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, in a 1981 ruling involving a North Carolina termination of parent rights case said that the right of an indigent defendant to have an appointed attorney isn’t just reserved for criminal cases, noting that the “defendant’s interest in personal freedom … triggers the right to appointed counsel.”

Read the full story by The Nerve’s Senior Investigative Reporter Rick Brundrett.

To learn more about the S.C. Policy Council and read more breaking stories in The Nerve, visit and  It’s where government gets exposed.

For more information, contact Robert Appel at the S.C. Policy Council at 803-779-5022, Ext. 116 or

The S.C. Policy Council is an associate member of the S.C. Press Association.

Robert Appel

Director of Communications

South Carolina Policy Council

803-779-5022 Ext. 116

803-779-4953 (fax)

Limited Government • Free Enterprise • Individual Liberty


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