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Civil Rights


Seeking Systemic Changes

Terrell Marshall Law Group’s civil rights work focuses on impact litigation with the goal of ending discriminatory and unconstitutional practices. We fight hard to address inequities in the criminal legal system and the unfair treatment of communities of color, people who are poor, and other marginalized groups.

Modern-Day Debtors’ Prison Litigation

The United States has a long history of using jails and prisons to oppress people, especially people of color. Congress outlawed debtors’ prisons nearly 200 years ago, and in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to jail a person because they cannot afford to pay fines, fees, or other debt they owe to a court. Nonetheless, courts, law enforcement, and jails across the country have worked together to unconstitutionally imprison countless people who cannot afford to pay these court debts. This practice violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses and maintains racial and class inequities in America. Terrell Marshall Law Group has successfully represented thousands of victims of modern-day debtors’ prisons across Washington state and is currently fighting on behalf of tens of thousands of people in South Carolina who owe or will owe court debts.

Defending the 6th Amendment Right to Counsel

The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to an attorney in criminal cases where jail time is a possibility and requires that counsel be provided at all critical stages, which often includes an accused person’s first appearance in court. But many courts fail to provide adequate representation to people who cannot afford the high cost of an attorney, violating this right and often leading to unfair convictions, court fines and fees, and even jail time. Terrell Marshall Law Group specializes in bringing civil lawsuits in federal court to help ensure state courts provide constitutionally adequate counsel to represent people being prosecuted in those courts.

Protecting the Rights of People Owing LFOs

Legal financial obligations (LFOs) are fines, fees, or other court costs assigned as a result of a criminal conviction. While courts may legally impose LFOs, people who owe these debts have constitutional rights, including due process rights and the right to be protected from excessive fees. The attorneys at Terrell Marshall Law Group are passionate about defending the rights of people who owe LFOs and have successfully brought litigation across the country to protect their rights.

Lending Discrimination

Lenders have a constitutional obligation to provide equal opportunities in lending and cannot discriminate based on citizenship, national origin, race, spoken language, gender, age, or disability. However, some lenders still use discriminatory practices and refuse credit to individuals based on these protected characteristics. Our attorneys have extensive experience fighting back against discriminatory lenders on behalf of individuals who have been treated unfairly.

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Civil Rights Team

Civil Rights Victories

Ending the Imprisonment of Debtors in Benton County

Fuentes v. Benton County
In partnership with the ACLU of Washington, Terrell Marshall filed suit claiming that Benton County was operating a modern-day debtor’s prison. Benton County routinely imprisoned people for unpaid legal financial obligations, such as tickets and court fees, when they could not afford to pay them. The county eventually agreed to sweeping reforms as part of a settlement with the plaintiffs and a settlement class.

Defending the Right to Counsel

Wilbur, et al. v. Mount Vernon, et al.
Terrell Marshall filed a lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of thousands of low-income individuals accused of misdemeanors. The suit was filed against the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington in Skagit County, Washington, for systematically failing to provide assistance of counsel. Terrell Marshall was part of the team of attorneys who tried the case in the Western District of Washington, obtaining a complete victory for their clients and the class. The relief included appointment of a supervisor to oversee the public defense systems in those two cities, which is the first time a federal court has ever made such an appointment.

Protecting Victims of the For-Profit Bail Industry

Mitchell v. First Call Bail & Surety
In partnership with ACLU, Terrell Marshall filed suit on behalf of a Montana family whose home was attacked by a paramilitary group of bounty hunters hired by bail bondsmen after the client accidentally missed a court date related to traffic violations. The court ruled that terms in the bail contract that would have required the family to pay the bounty hunters’ and bail bondsman's legal fees and other costs were unfair and could not be enforced.

Fighting for Compensation for Wrongful Convictions

From 2013 to 2017, Terrell Marshall worked alongside attorneys Boyd M. Mayo and Matthew
Zuchetto to prove that three men were wrongfully convicted of first degree robbery and assault
based on the 2009 testimony of an informant who implicated the men in exchange for leniency.
In 2017, the Honorable Judge John Cooney of Spokane County Superior Court entered an
in favor of clients Robert Larson, Tyler Gassman, and Paul Statler, all of whom served
more than four years in prison for crimes they did not commit. The Court found the men had no
involvement in the crime for which they were charged and were thus entitled to $50,000 for each
year spent wrongfully incarcerated and to reentry services, including low-cost legal and financial
advice, education, mentoring, job skills development, and mental health and substance abuse

Think you have a case?

If you think your rights have been violated, we’ll help you determine if you have a case.