The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with California Friday for the right to a criminal defense lawyer in all 58 counties. This settlement will allow California to expand and overhaul the public defense system by providing $14 million to this system in the state’s annual budget
The original complaint was filed in Fresno County Superior Court, stating that the lack of funding and support that the public defense system in California deprived public defenders’ clients of adequate legal representation as guaranteed by the Constitution. The complaint specifically stated that the lack of funding in the public defense system denies potential clients of rights provided by both the federal Constitution and the California state Constitution. More specifically, potential clients are denied both their Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California Novella Coleman stated that, “getting a fair trial should not depend on how much money you have in the bank. But in Fresno County if you can’t pay for a private attorney, you must rely on a public defense system unequipped to meet even basic legal needs.”
As part of this settlement agreement, the State of California is set to expand the mission of the Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD) in order to provide adequate defense counsel in non-capital criminal cases. In order to achieve this mission, California will train attorneys providing trial-level criminal defense services, provide such attorneys with technical assistance and identify further steps that could help facilitate the state’s ultimate goals through the appropriate legislation. Further, as part of this agreement, the plaintiffs both released their right to refile this complaint and waived all the claims it brought against the state of California.