Michael Turner v. Rebccea Rogers Et Al.

The United States Supreme Court is hearing the case of Michael Turner from South Carolina. Turner was jailed for 12 months for failure to pay $6,000.00 in child support arrearage which he owed.  Turner was described as indigent; howver, South Carolina is one of many states, as is Alabama, that does not appoint counsel for indigent Defendants in non-payment of child support actions.

Turner is being represented by a group of pro bono lawyers who have argued that his Sixth Amendment Right to counsel was violated, and that his lengthy incarceration is the equivalent of debtor’s prison.  The central legal issue in this case is whether and in what circumstances the state may deprive an individual of his liberty without providing him a lawyer.

Non-payment of child support is generally an issue of civil, as opposed to criminal, contempt, meaning that the Defendant “holds the keys” to his or her jail cell and can become free by making the necessary payment.  This position is what Turner’s ex-wife’s attorneys have argued in support of their position that Turner is not entitled to legal counsel in such a proceeding.

The court is expected to render a decision by Summer 2011.  The far-reaching effects of this Supreme Court jurisprudence will be interesting to see unfold, as Alabama is currently in a budgetary crisis and experiencing shortfalls in funding regarding the indigent defense that we currently have in place.