Santa Clara County courts: Now providing legal representation in misdemeanor court to anyone who can’t afford their own

A couple of years ago, it was common to hear of Santa Clara County indigent community members tell us they plead guilty to a misdemeanor at arraignment. Since the Public Defender’s office didn’t staff all arraignment courts, many took a plea without consulting an attorney. Many would pay the consequences of their uninformed decision after the fact in terms of jobs, housing, and immigration. We still remember going to meet with Jeff Adachi in San Francisco, and being stunned at the differences of services offered for public defender clients who faced misdemeanor charges. The main difference being ofcourse that in San Francisco people could consult with an attorney at arraignment, and in Santa Clara County, they were denied that right. De-Bug’s ACJP and other members of the Coalition for Justice and Accountability met with the Public Defender’s office about this discrepancy in 2010. Very excited to see now that the Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office will staff all arraignments!

By Tracey Kaplan for the Mercury News: Ending an era in which criminal defendants’ constitutional rights were routinely jeopardized, Santa Clara County will now offer legal representation to anyone who can’t afford an attorney at their initial court appearance.

The reform, which begins next week, brings the local judicial system in line with the majority of other California counties — including San Mateo and San Francisco — that have long staffed misdemeanor arraignments, a defendant’s first court appearance. A 2009 Mercury News investigation prompted the county to provide representation for defendants in custody. Now that right will apply to all defendants accused of misdemeanors. Continue reading