South Carolina

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At a Glance (as of 2013)

Percentage of state funding: 50%
Percentage of local funding: 50%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
State commission: yes – limited authority
Branch of government: executive

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Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services

The South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense is a statewide, state-funded body of the executive branch charged with overseeing the state’s delivery of indigent defense services. The commission is comprised of thirteen members. The governor appoints nine members. Five gubernatorial appointments are based on the recommendations of the South Carolina Bar Association, and four are based on recommendations of the South Carolina Public Defender Association (and must reflect geographic diversity based on the state’s four Judicial Regions). The chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court makes two appointments: one must be a retired circuit court judge, and one must be a retired judge with either family court or appellate experience. The Senate and House Judiciary chairs each appoint one person from their respective committees.

The commission has the authority to promulgate standards regarding the provision of indigent defense services, including, among others: attorney qualification, performance, workload, training, data collection, attorney compensation, and indigence determinations. The commission also oversees the state’s Office of Indigent Defense, a central office that: (1) provides day-to-day management of the statewide system; (2) processes and pays vouchers submitted by appointed counsel (Family court Abuse and Neglect cases, Termination of Parental Rights cases, other Family court matters, and Post Conviction Relief cases, and criminal conflicts); (3) operates an Appellate Division (handling all indigent appeals); and, (4) maintains a Capital Trial Division that provides death penalty representation throughout the state (usually alongside a local public defender) as first chair or second chair.

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At the trial level, the commission employs 16 circuit public defenders that serve four-year terms and that are selected through a complex process that begins at the county Bar level.  Circuit defenders maintain salary and benefits parity with both the state’s circuit judges and the state’s 16 elected Circuit Prosecutors (called Solicitors in SC).  The circuit defenders have broad flexibility as to how they run their day-to-day operations within the parameters of commission policy and standards. However, though the circuit defenders are state employees, the assistant public defenders are employees of one of the counties within their circuits.

Statutory Authority

S.C. Code Ann. §17-3-5 though §17-3-600

Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff, augmented by information provided by the South Carolina Office of Indigent Defense.