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Press Releases

October 12, 2017

ACLU Challenges South Carolina Municipalities that Deny Public Defenders to Poor People Who Are Then Prosecuted, Convicted, and Jailed

People Who Can’t Afford Attorneys Must Defend Themselves in Court Against Criminal Charges with Life-Altering Consequences

Shaundra Scott, ACLU of South Carolina, 843-282-7952, sscott@aclusc.org
Alexandra Ringe, ACLU national, 212-549-2582, aringe@aclu.org

CHARLESTON, SC — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of South Carolina, and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough filed a class-action lawsuit today challenging South Carolina municipal courts’ unconstitutional practices of denying lawyers to people who can’t afford private attorneys and are sentenced to incarceration. In the city of Beaufort and the town of Bluffton’s municipal courts, people are prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and jailed without being providing public defenders, or even advised of their right to counsel, violating the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Here I was in front of a judge who could send me to jail, and I had no lawyer and didn’t know how to defend myself. It was terrifying,” said Tina Bairefoot, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who couldn’t afford an attorney. She was charged in Beaufort County with shoplifting and the municipal court prosecuted and convicted her without a lawyer. Ms. Bairefoot was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

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