SC Lawyer, September 2007, #4. Legislation Reforms South Carolina's Public Defender System.

AuthorBy T. Patton Adams

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, September 2007, #4.

Legislation Reforms South Carolina's Public Defender System

South Carolina LawyerSeptember 2007Legislation Reforms South Carolina's Public Defender SystemBy T. Patton AdamsIt's official. South Carolina has a new statewide unified indigent defense system which became law on June 21, 2007.

The new law, Act No. 108, is the result of a series of hearings held in the summer and fall of 2006 before a Senate Task Force on Criminal Justice chaired by Sen. Gerald Malloy of Hartsville. The statewide indigent defense system was a key recommendation made to the task force by the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense.

The new legislation completely reforms the existing public defender system in South Carolina and provides a means to eliminate the negative impact of Rule 608, SCACR, criminal appointments. The act creates a circuit public defender position for each of the state's 16 judicial circuits with compensation and benefits equal to that of circuit solicitors. Circuit Public Defender Selection Panels, made up of attorneys from each county within each circuit, will advertise and seek applications and select a nominee whose name will be submitted to the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense. The commission will accept or reject the nominee, but cannot substitute a nominee. Each circuit public defender will serve for a term of four years and may be re-nominated. They will be classified as state employees.

Total implementation of the new system is expected to take about two years. New funding provided by the legislature this year will allow for the creation of eight to 10 circuit public defenders in the current fiscal year, with the remainder of the circuit defenders becoming operational effective July 1, 2008. The commission is developing an implementation plan.

All assistant public defenders and staff working for the circuit defender will become employees of the county that the circuit public defender designates as the "administering county," with eligibility to the state's retirement system and health care plans. The legislation provides that all current employees of a public defender office are grandfathered for one year.

Under the new system, the commission is authorized to establish standards of operation for every circuit defender office. The standards will provide better...

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