Governor Brown Signs Legislation Protecting Right to Legal Representation for People in California Jails

Zaineb Mohammed, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights: or 510.285.8236

Governor Brown Signs Legislation Protecting Right to Legal Representation for People in California Jails

Sacramento, CA — On Friday, September 23rd Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation ensuring that people serving a year or more in jail receive the same access to legal representation as those in state prison.

“We thank Governor Brown for signing this bill into law and providing some relief to people with loved ones in jail,” said Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “The costs of having a family member locked up are enormous, and this legislation will prevent low-income families from facing an additional unfair financial burden.”

Under state law, people serving more than a year state prison are presumed to be financially unable to pay for the criminal defense that they receive from public defenders or court appointed attorneys and are therefore granted access to free legal representation.

However, after the passage of the Realignment Act of 2011, this existing law was not modified to include those people now serving lengthy sentences in jails instead of prisons. In order to lower its state prison population, in 2011 California enacted a realignment of its public safety system that changed where people convicted of lower-level crimes serve time from state prisons to county jails.

The discrepancy in law came to light in a recent ruling in The People v. Prescott case, which said that state statute does not apply to those sentenced to county jail, even if the sentence is more than a year. This oversight resulted in people serving their sentences in county jail being denied the same rights to legal representation that they would receive if they were in state prison.

The passage of Senate Bill 614, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, corrects this oversight.

“A person’s placement in jail rather than prison should not result in them being denied the same rights, which includes access to legal representation,” said Senator Herztberg. “By fixing this discrepancy, we are upholding one of the foundations of our legal system.”