The U.S. Supreme Court’s five to four decision in Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. ___, (2011), involves the civil contempt citation for non-payment of child support in a case originating from South Carolina. This case involved the non-payment of a child support obligation of $52.00 a month over five years with arrearages up to $5,728.00. It also included repeated contempt proceedings (5) in a South Carolina statue authorizing the maximum of one year of jail until payment was made. There is no constitutional mandate for appointment of counsel in a family law matter. However, Mr. Turner filed for violation of due process and the right to counsel for civil contempt. The Court looked at balancing between the support related civil contempt and an indigent’s fourteenth amendment due process right to counsel when facing jail. The issue is whether someone who is indigent, who is charged with a crime who faces jail or probation, is there a fixed constitutional right to counsel as balanced against a fair hearing. The ultimate issue, is to what extent should a right to a counsel attached to a civil proceeding under state constitutional provisions and also protect the right to due process.
Interestingly, by the time the Turner case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Turner had already served twelve months in jail and had been released from custody.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that absent adequate procedural safeguards, due process may require appointment of counsel under the fourteenth amendment in state civil contempt matters.