NACDL - Rush to Judgment: How South Carolina’s Summary Courts Fail to Protect Constitutional Rights

Rush to Judgment: How South Carolina’s Summary Courts Fail to Protect Constitutional Rights

Researchers systematically gathered data from magistrate and municipal courts in five counties. The research confirms that there is a pervasive lack of procedural justice and fairness in these courts. Far too many accused persons are not advised of basic constitutional rights, and even when they are, those rights are not respected.

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As a result, many lose their liberty, sustain the life-altering consequences of a criminal conviction, and are saddled with fees and fines, the non-payment of which can have cascading impacts for years to come. And with alarming frequency these outcomes arise in derogation of the fundamental right to counsel.

In response to disturbing stories of constitutional violations uncovered by NACDL and ACLU attorneys documented in 2016’s Summary Injustice report, NACDL undertook additional investigation of South Carolina’s summary courts. Law students and legal professionals gathered information about court proceedings in five South Carolina counties over three months in the winter and spring of 2016, the results of which are published in this follow-up report. Each day, the team observed court hearings in various venues, observing individuals charged with everything from shoplifting to driving offenses to unlawful possession of tobacco and alcohol. In every court studied for this report, the team found egregious, repeated constitutional violations happening daily and in hundreds of cases. In the months of court watching and data collection, researchers documented numerous findings, all of which are set forth in the Rush to Judgment report.