When a person is accused of a crime and faces loss of life or liberty as punishment, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that person the right to a lawyer even if he or she cannot afford one. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this basic principle more than a half century ago in Gideon v. Wainwright, and in subsequent cases that expanded the right to misdemeanor prosecutions. Yet it is violated routinely every day in South Carolina courts, where scores of people are convicted, sentenced, and sometimes incarcerated, without having been represented by counsel. This paper documents the constitutional violations observed by attorneys with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 27 different courts throughout the state during several weeks between December 2014 and July 2015.
Click here for the full white paper.
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars in the upcoming Oliver Stone film “Snowden” as the NSA whistleblower, said that he is donating his entire acting fee from the movie to help facilitate the conversation about technology and democracy. Part of the fee will compensate those individuals whose contributions wind up being used in the finished hitRECord production. The remainder will be given to the ACLU to support the organization’s work on free speech and digital privacy rights.
Watch the video below and read the ACLU's blog to learn more.
South Carolina law states that solitary confinement can't be used as a punishment for juveniles, and confinement can’t exceed four hours unless the juvenile is a security threat. Yet last year, Dunn represented one juvenile who was held in solitary for six weeks after being involved in a riot. She was able to get her client removed, but around that time there were 34 other inmates in solitary at the facility, she says. "It appears that the folks who are running these facilities [think] the only way to keep kids safe is to lock them up," she adds. "The state policy in South Carolina reads pretty good; they're just not paying attention."
Read the full story over at the Christian Science Monitor.
BY VICTORIA MIDDLETON
School discipline is often framed as an either-or choice between putting up with disruptive classroom behavior or arresting, tackling, or tasing kids. Are these the only alternatives? We don’t think so.
Richland County's Spring Valley High School: A School Resource Officer (SRO) violently arrested a student while a classmate caught the entire ordeal on video and shared it on social media, where it has quickly gone viral.
This type of brutal treatment is completely unjustified, irrespective of the student's actions leading to the involvement of the SRO, and the ACLU of SC will not stand idly by and allow this to continue.
Sasheer Zamata joins ACLU Ambassadors Harry Belafonte, W. Kamau Bell, Demian Bichir, Lewis Black, Melissa Etheridge, Jesse Ferguson, Marlee Matlin, and Michael K. Williams, who amplify the ACLU’s work on civil liberties issues. More about Sasheer Zamata and the Celebrity Ambassador Project is here: https://www.aclu.org/feature/aclu-ambassador-project
NEW YORK – Actress and comedian Sasheer Zamata, known for her breakout role on the cast of Saturday Night Live, will partner with the American Civil Liberties Union to support women’s rights. She joins the ACLU as a celebrity ambassador on the heels of her recent promotion to repertory player for SNL’s 41st season, her third season with the show.
In her role as an ambassador, Zamata will elevate the ACLU’s work to fight gender inequality and structural discrimination against women in employment, education, healthcare, housing, and criminal justice through advocacy and public education. The ACLU Women’s Rights Project was co-founded in 1972 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called women’s rights “an essential part of the overall human rights agenda.”
Though strides have been made in the past several decades to advance and protect the rights of women and girls, there’s a lot left to do. In the U.S. today:
"We are thrilled to name Sasheer Zamata as our newest celebrity ambassador," says Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "She is the perfect voice for the next generation, and especially for those looking to effect real and lasting change on women's rights issues."
Zamata—who was named one of Cosmopolitan’s "13 Funny Women to Watch in 2014,"—joins Harry Belafonte, Michael K. Williams, Lewis Black, Marlee Matlin, and others, to amplify the ACLU's work on priority civil liberties issues, including mass incarceration, voting rights, disability rights, and LGBT equality.
Be a friend and share the video Sasheer Zamata Says Women’s Rights “Still a BFD!”
More information about the ACLU’s women’s rights work is available at:
A Town Hall Meeting was held on October 13 to document stories of profiling by the North Charleston Police Department.
Charleston's News 2 covered the event, and spoke with ACLU of SC Legal Director Susan Dunn.
This year, we saw a Columbia man shot by a police officer after reaching for the very ID the officer was asking for; we watched a bystander video of Walter Scott's shooting in North Charleston; we read of a Seneca teenager's death in a drug sting. These and other South Carolina victims of police shootings — 32 in our state already this year — were unarmed.
At the time of Walter Scott's shooting in April, approximately 209 people had been shot in the past five years and 79 of those had died at the hands of police. Only three police officers have been charged with a crime in connection with any of the 209 shootings, according to The State newspaper.
In other communities — Ferguson, Baltimore, and many more — the breakdown of police-community relations as a result of police shootings has been devastating. Protests in our state have been peaceful, but community trust in local police departments has been shaken.
We need to jump-start dialogue about police practices, particularly those that harm the community, and talk about reforms.
The list of change that we seek is short, but the goal is far-reaching:
In the municipal court of North Charleston, South Carolina, Tvedt observed as an elderly woman charged with theft of food from a Walmart repeatedly requested and was denied a public defender. Unable to pay her fine, she was handcuffed and taken to jail. Those who can’t afford fines are also generally unable to afford bail—a situation that was darkly manifested in the deaths of Kalief Browder in New York and Sandra Bland in Texas, among many others.
When police power is used to restrict freedom of movement, it should be based upon real evidence, not guesses or assumptions. What we need is a thorough investigation of current police practices including training in use of force, de-escalation of violence and avoidance of bias-based policing. In addition, our elected officials should establish meaningful civilian review of police misconduct.
Students across America are being arrested at school. Their crimes? Non-violent, disorderly behavior.
In the school-to-prison pipeline, students are being funneled straight from school into the juvenile justice system at alarming rates. Under South Carolina’s Disturbing Schools law, even routine disciplinary problems in schools are treated as crimes.
What’s more: Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of their white peers. And disabled students are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions. These vulnerable students feel the brunt of these destructive policies.
The disturbing truth is that kicking kids out for “disturbing schools” and other minor misbehavior doesn’t work. Research shows that higher suspension rates lead to lower test scores and higher dropout and delinquency rates.
It doesn’t take an honors student to do the math. The school-to-prison pipeline has irreversible consequences on the lives of impacted students - and should be of concern to us all.
Bottom line: arresting a student while at school should be an absolute last resort - not a first response. Keep kids in schools and out of jail.
Push South Carolina school officials to plug the school-to-prison pipeline with common-sense discipline policies.
July 20, 2015
"In South Carolina, the ACLU was victorious in a recent reapportionment case for the Jasper County School District that would have improperly counted the correctional population when creating school board districts.10 Jasper County’s population in 2010 was 24,777. Located in that county is the Ridgeland Correctional Institution, with an average population of 1,163. The prisoners sent to that institution come from all counties in the state. The school board has 9 single-member districts. If the population calculations included the prisoners, each district would have needed to have 2,753 people, but one of the districts would have comprised over 40 percent prisoner population – unable to vote, resulting in unequal representation for voters in that district. Following a remedial order, all parties to the lawsuit agreed to remove the prison population from the calculations."
Read more of the ACLU's comments on the 2020 Census and the residence Rule supporting the counting of incarcerated people at their home address, follow the link below:
ACLU Comments- Census Residence Rule FINAL
July 13, 2015
North Charleston, SC
The ACLU of South Carolina has joined other civil rights organizations in urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation of the North Charleston Police Department to uncover any pattern or practice of racially discriminatory policing, following the April 4, 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott. “It’s past time to take a deeper look at how racial bias has permeated our institutions in South Carolina,” said Victoria Middleton, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “Longstanding complaints from the community, capped by Walter Scott’s tragic death, raise questions that can’t be brushed aside.”
July 10, 2015
ACLU of South Carolina welcomes the South Carolina legislature’s historic decision to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. At issue was not an individual’s free speech rights but government speech that was divisive rather than inclusive, deeply offensive and indicative of racial hatred and injustice to many in our state and beyond. At the same time, we know that this action is not enough to eradicate structural and institutional racism in our state, and we will redouble our efforts to ensure equal protection and treatment for all people in South Carolina.
June 26, 2015
ACLU Statement on Marriage Equality Win
"Today's decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws. The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country."
June 18, 2015
The ACLU of South Carolina expresses its profound condolences to the victims' families in the wake of this senseless tragedy. Events like this are further evidence that we need to be fighting for racial equality in our daily lives. This attack against Black people in an institution that has such historical and cultural importance detracts from years of healing undertaken by our communities. Senator Clementa Pinckney stood for civil liberties, and we mourn his loss with the other victims.
2015 Legislative Wrap-Up
Recently, the first half of the 2015-2016 session of the South Carolina legislature came to an end. The ACLU of SC worked tirelessly on bills that would impact police accountability, reproductive freedom, voting rights, and equality in South Carolina, to name a few.
With your help, we ensured that some of the worst threats to our liberties did not succeed:
Some vital measures were successful:
Right now, we're still fighting an extreme bill that would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks, regardless of circumstances like rape, incest, threat to a woman's health, or fetal anomalies. A House and Senate conference committee will meet in the coming days on this extreme measure.
We'll be back at the Statehouse in January 2016 to resume the fight for the rights of juveniles in the justice system; to reduce over-incarceration of non-violent offenders and the indigent; to expand voting rights; to end profiling and advance equality; and to protect women's reproductive rights.
On May 1, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the Body-Worn Camera Pilot Partnership Program. The $20 million program which is part of President Obama’s proposal to invest $75 million over three years, will cover the cost of 50,000 body-worn cameras for officers across the nation. Grants will be awarded to agencies that meet the requirements, and South Carolina will be able to apply for funding.
Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager also wasn't wearing one when he pulled over and subsequently shot Walter Scott.
The ACLU maintains that good policies are crucial. We need to determine what may be wrong with police training and what must be done with record keeping to both protect privacy and increase public trust in law enforcement.
On Thursday, April 30, in an attempt to restore trust in law enforcement after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer, a state Senate panel affirmed the right to record police activity in public and called for independent investigations of police shootings.
The deaths of Walter Scott, Eric Garner and Michael Brown are part of an alarming trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters.
The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. To build trust, we must have a democratic system where our communities have an equal say in the way their neighborhoods are policed. Collaboration, transparency, and communication between police and communities around the shared goals of equality, fairness, and public safety pave the path forward.
The 20-week abortion ban measure goes to the Senate floor this week (April 28-30). This bill, as approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee, will ban abortions after a woman is 20 weeks pregnant, with exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and severe fetal anomalies.
“Look at us. We’re a bunch of men voting on what a woman would have to do with her own life,” Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat and an opponent of the bill, told the panel. “We’re a bunch of men sitting up here trying to tell a woman whether it’s right or not to terminate a pregnancy at 20 versus 24 weeks. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves that we’re going to impose our own value system and interfere with the relationship between a woman, her physician, her spiritual adviser and her family.”
Abortion is currently legal in South Carolina in the first two trimesters, or 24 weeks, of pregnancy. In the last trimester, it is only permitted to save the life or health of the mother.
Imposing one rule on every woman, regardless of the circumstances of her pregnancy, is extremely callous. A woman shouldn't be denied basic health care or the ability to make the best decision for her circumstances because some politicians disagree with her.