After More Than Five Years of Litigation, South Carolina County Agrees to Dramatically Increase Funding for Indigent Defense 

Lexington County Courthouse by
Ralph Hightower

By Michael McCutcheon

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Lexington County Council last week voted to significantly increase the quality and quantity of public defense services for Lexington County Magistrate Courts, but it took years in court to get that vote.

The proposal originated out of litigation in 2017 by the ACLU of South Carolina and the Terrell Marshall Law Group who charged Lexington County had been failing to provide access to legal representation as required by law, but proceeded with the criminal justice process anyway.

In 2013, Lexington County did not have even one public defender to represent the accused in magistrate courts, said the ACLU.

While there have been minor improvements, the ACLU argued South Carolina’s regular constitutional violations caused harm to vulnerable accused, who often faced misdemeanor violations and traffic charges without representation.

Lexington County’s decision to vote on the agreement came following a recent ruling by The Judge Sherrie A. Lydon in the District of South Carolina, who concluded that Lexington County, “has engaged in policies, procedures, and customs that cause systemic deficiencies in funding, staffing and assignment of cases to public defenders with the result that indigent people in the [Lexington County Magistrate Courts] are deprived of court-appointed counsel.”

The agreement requires at least six attorneys, one investigator, one administrative assistant, one paralegal and one social worker to be hired and retained exclusively for the purpose of serving in Lexington County magistrate courts.

About The Author

Michael is a senior at CSU Long Beach majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice. After graduating with a BS, Michael plans to attend grad school and receive his Masters with a thesis on interrogation techniques.

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