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Brown v. Lexington County

This case alleges that Lexington County operates a modern-day debtors’ prison pursuant to a Default Payment Policy and a Trial in Abstentia Policy. If they are present in court, indigent persons who are unable to pay court fines and fees in full at the time of sentencing are given a payment plan with steep monthly payments. Failure to make a payment results in a bench warrant unless the full amount owed is paid. Defendants are never asked about their ability to pay. Under the Trial in Abstentia policy, magistrate courts routinely ignore requests for continuances, try the case without the defendant present, impose a conviction and sentence the defendant to jail suspended on the payment of the fines and fees imposed. Without informing the defendant of the decision, the court issues a bench warrant ordering law enforcement to arrest and jail the individual unless the full amount owed is paid before booking. In addition, defendants are never informed of their right to counsel. The County issued 204 bench warrants, charging at least 183 people with nonpayment of fines and fees between February 1, 2017 and March 31, 2017.

Status

Defendants’ summary judgment motion and Plaintiff’s motion for class certification denied. Defendant’s motion for reconsideration was later denied. Defendants Reinhart, Adams and Koons filed a notice of appeal challenging the district court’s order denying summary judgement based on immunity. Plaintiffs’ filed a Second Amended Complaint and Second Amended Motion for Class Certification; the motion is pending.

You can find a detailed summary and case documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse. You can also read more about the plaintiffs: Amy Marie Palacios, Nora Ann Corder.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (alleging due process, equal protection and 6th amendment violations)
3:17-cv-01426-MBS-SVH (D.S.C.)
June 2017; Amended Complaint - October 2017; Second Amended Complaint - April 2018
ACLU National, ACLU of South Carolina, Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC
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