Petitioner father faced State civil contempt proceedings for failing to pay child support to the mother of his children. The South Carolina court ordered him incarcerated for a period of 12 months. The father appealed the judgment of the Supreme Court of South Carolina which held that the father was not entitled to appointed counsel in the proceedings.
At the support hearing, neither parent was aided by an attorney. The court found the father to be in willful contempt for failure to pay child support. The Court made no finding concerning the father’s ability to pay. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the father was denied due process; however, due process did not automatically require the State to provide counsel for indigents facing civil contempt proceedings where incarceration is a potential penalty. The right to counsel was limited based upon the parent’s ability to pay, parity in representation between the parties, and some nebulous State “procedural safeguards.” The Court went so far as to suggest that the State court could have asked the father to fill out a financial form.
Indigents beware: The USSC has sanctioned a policy of imprisoning the impoverished, punishing the poor, and incarcerating the insolvent. Justice Breyer has visited injustice upon the defenseless, and doomed the destitute to a modern day debtor’s prison. Breyer’s “protection” of “procedural safeguards” may be of little comfort to the father in the Turner decision who had already served his 12-month sentence when the decision was rendered. Apparently the USSC’s desire to avoid “asymmetry” in representation in these hearings is best achieved by denying indigents an attorney—litigation without lawyers. Makes one wonder what will happen when this Court gets a hold of healthcare. To be consistent, Breyer may have to rule that medicine is best practiced by those without medical training. Of course, patients will need to fill out a form, which we trust will ask for “Next of Kin.”
The Law Offices of Colón & McNelis, P.A. aggressively represents people throughout Central Florida in Family, Personal Injury, Social Security/Disability, Immigration, Criminal Defense, and Probate matters. Colón & McNelis, (863) 534-3777, www.colonandmcnelis.com. We are yourfloridalawyers.com.