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Grimsley, a local attorney, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. No Supreme Court decisions in our history have been violated so widely, so frequently, and for so long. I just knew it would kill my mom.

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A request to order Grimsley to provide Christie with counsel went unresolved, but he was offered a plea deal and ended up paying a fine. Like many states across the country, South Carolina tasks municipal courts with handling low-level offenses—from traffic tickets to more serious criminal misdemeanor charges, such as drug possession, minor assault, and theft. Christie and many others have been denied counsel even though their liberty was at stake—in spite of the U. Wainwright in that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to professional counsel regardless of their ability to pay for it.

While harsher crimes that carry felony sentences make the news, citizens are most likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system through misdemeanor courts, also called courts of limited jurisdiction. According to the National Center for State Courts, there are 14, to 16, such courts across 46 states. In , these courts handled 70 million cases. Data on these courts is tracked inconsistently or not at all, making it hard to know how often the rights of poor defendants are being violated. Tvedt has spent the last 12 months visiting courtrooms around the country to observe proceedings.

In May, Sen. Chuck Grassley chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the right to counsel for indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors. Grassley, who has openly opposed sentencing reform and espoused tough-on-crime policies, is an unlikely advocate for the rights of poor defendants. Municipal courts are one of the primary gateways to this overburdened criminal justice system.

She looked tired. A group of accused offenders was waiting outside the courtroom for their appearance before the judge.

Small Town Justice - Inside Out (Eve 6 cover)

Many glanced at one another to see if anyone would raise a hand. None did. As offender after offender went through the motions of pleading guilty and then departed, the police officer ushered those waiting one by one through a metal detector and directed each to a seat in the courtroom.

This Is What Justice Looks Like in Many Small Towns Across America

A middle-aged man sheepishly set six rolls of change on the table before going through the metal detector; he had brought them to pay his fine. Photo: Matthew Franklin Carter. Assistant Judge Leslie Sharff Sr. Most swiftly answered yes, with the apparent ease of having been through it before. The Guide to Small Claims is available upon request or by clicking here. Court personnel are available to answer questions by telephone, email or in person.


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Clerks are not allowed to give legal advice and cannot promote or recommend a particular course of action. Please note: Cellphones, computers, cameras and other hand held devices are not permitted in the courtroom. Online Ticket Payments.