How Local Courts Sidestep The Right To An Attorney

According to Joanna Weiss, a co-founder of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, it’s no surprise that constitutional violations occur in local courts because many of them primarily serve their town or city’s bottom line.

News Story (NATIONAL, South Carolina)

RJ Vogt
October 28, 2019

Tags: Fines and Fees

Organizations mentioned/involved: Fines and Fees Justice Center


The uncertainty over how effectively South Carolina municipal courts are providing the constitutional right to counsel reflects a nationwide concern about America’s most localized justice halls, which handle traffic tickets, city ordinance violations and, in some states, low-level misdemeanors like shoplifting that carry up to monthlong jail sentences.

According to David Carroll, the executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, Beaufort and Bluffton are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to local courts with right to counsel problems. At least 11 other states allow city and town-run courts to handle jailable offenses but require those courts to fund their own public defense systems, with little oversight.

“It’s America’s dirty little secret,” he said. “Thousands of people go to jail every day in this country without ever speaking to an attorney.”