Monday, March 21, 2011

Supreme Court to Consider Whether State Court Judge Can Jail Person Without Appointing Counsel

*Turner v. Rogers

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case that will determine whether a state court judge can jail a person for contempt without appointing an attorney to represent him.

In Turner, the Court will consider: 1) Whether an indigent defendant has a constitutional right to appointed counsel at a civil contempt proceeding that results in his incarceration; and 2) whether the Court has jurisdiction to review the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Turner argues the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution guarantee him, as an indigent defendant in state court, the right to appointed counsel before being sentenced to one year imprisonment for civil contempt. The South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed.


Of significance will be if the court will find that it has jurisdiction to hear the case; and, then if they do, will they establish a rule that state court judges must appoint counsel for defendants who cannot afford counsel prior to jailing a person. Such a rule would have implications in Tennessee courts for violations of such things as varied as child support, contempt of court, or failing a drug test. If the Court finds that they have jurisdiction over what has previously been a state court matter then this will be a decision to watch for 2011.

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