In Legal Studies

Legal studies Chair Alisa Smith is the lead researcher and co-author of Rush to Judgment: How South Carolina’s Summary Courts Fail to Protect Constitutional Rights,published this week by the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

The report documents the constitutional violations observed in five counties throughout South Carolina in the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016.

In the months of court watching and data collection, the researchers documented numerous findings, all of which are set forth in the Rush to Judgment report. They include:

  • A routine absence of any lawyers in the courtroom — nearly 26% of observed defendants had their cases processed without interacting with a single lawyer: the case was prosecuted by a police officer, there was no defense counsel, andthe judge was not a licensed attorney.
  • Fewer than 10% of defendants in the study were represented by counsel. In 89% of the cases observed, the charging officers were the prosecutors in the summary court proceedings.
  • More than half of defendants (50.9%) were not advised of their right to counsel when speaking to the judge.
  • For bench trials, guilty was the most common verdict. Over 90% of defendants were found guilty; 96.3% of defendants tried in their absence were found guilty, compared to 73% when the defendant was present.

The report also suggests recommendations for reform. To access the full report, visit www.nacdl.org/summaryinjustice/.

For this study, Smith collaborated with University of Tampa Associate Professor Sean Madden and student observers from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Charleston School of Law, Yale Law School and others.

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