Senate Passes Legislation Protecting the Legal Rights of Prisoners and Their Families
SB 614 clarifies the law to ensure prisoners serving a year or more in jail receive the same access to legal representation as those in prison
SACRAMENTO – The Senate today passed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to correct an oversight of law created by the state’s 2011 public safety realignment that denies county jail inmates the same rights to legal representation they would receive if they were in state prison.
SB 614, which cleared the Assembly last week, was approved on a 39-0 vote and goes next to the governor for his consideration.
The discrepancy in law came to light in a recent ruling in The People v. Prescott case. Under state law, defendants serving more than a year in state prison are presumed to be unable to pay for legal defense and therefore granted access to free legal representation. A recently issued court decision, however, said that state statute does not apply to those sentenced to county jail, even if the sentence is more than a year.
“This legislation corrects an oversight in the law to ensure that the families of a defendant aren’t penalized by the prisoner’s placement in jail rather than prison,” Hertzberg said. “All people are entitled to legal representation in this country, no matter who they are or what their income level or where they are serving their time. It is one of the foundations of our legal system.”
In 2011, California enacted a sweeping realignment of its public safety system designed to lower the state prison population by simply changing where lower-level offenders serve time – from state prisons to county jails.
The bill is sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
“It’s unbelievably expensive to have a loved one in jail or prison. All of the fines and fees constitute a form of unfair taxation of the very poor,” said Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “The bipartisan leadership and bipartisan vote for SB 614 is a heartening sign of growing political intelligence and real compassion for families and for low-income defendants."
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district. After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.
MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814