Friday, June 8, 2012

Still no right to counsel on infractions in SF

San Francisco has newly created a right to counsel for low-income people in civil cases "touching on 'a basic human need,' such as housing, safety or child custody." Quote is per this California Lawyer coverage. Great news, because people shouldn't be at risk for losing their homes or their children without the help of a lawyer. Also because the Legal Services Corporation is, as usual, on the ropes. (Item via @ShriverCenter.)

So this is not to be ungrateful.

But San Francisco defendants still have no right to counsel in "Quality of Life" or other infraction prosecutions.

True, the right to a public defender ought to kick in whenever the DA applies this new "chronic offender" policy. Or at least you'd think so. The idea, there, is to jail "chronic offenders" who have multiple bench warrants derived from infractions (see previous). Infractions don't carry jail time. So the jailing of an infraction defendant can only be explained by the misdemeanor label on the offense of failure to appear. Misdemeanor charges carry a right to counsel, right?

So then there's everyone else facing infraction charges who doesn't get a lawyer. That's both for "quality of life" offenses and for moving violations that can cost a lot and put points on drivers' licenses.

An infraction conviction isn't as bad as losing a home or a child, no, but for professional drivers and people facing strict background checks, and for people with failures to appear or unpaid fines who find themselves at permanent risk of arrest -- these charges have consequences.

San Francisco. We're so progressive in such funny patchy ways.

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