The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a South Carolina man who was sent to jail after he was unable to pay his child support was deprived of his 14th amendment right to due process, according to published reports.
South Carolina law allows law enforcement to jail individuals who do not pay child support without providing them legal counsel. The defendant, Michael Turner, was sentenced to up to 12 months in prison for being unable to meet his child support payment and state courts denied that Turner had a right to a court-appointed attorney even though his liberty was on the line.
However, Turner claims he was never told that his ability to pay child support was the reason for his legal woes and said authorities never provided him with financial disclosures forms or any other means to determine whether he could feasibly meet his child support payments. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that state officials must ensure that hearings are “fundamentally fair” to the person facing possible incarceration.
“Under these circumstances, Turner’s incarceration violated the Due Process Clause,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.
In addition to South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Maine and Ohio also do not provide counsel for those too poor to afford legal assistance in child support cases.