Phillips v. State of California (Fresno Public Defense)

Closed Case
Apr 12, 2016

Page Media

Coins in a jar with a gavel

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California has filed a lawsuit to protect the rights of Fresno County residents charged with crimes and unable to afford an attorney. The lawsuit seeks an overhaul of the county’s deficient public defense system. Download the complaint.

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California sues over failing public defense system

Because public defenders do not receive the resources necessary to represent their clients, thousands of Fresno residents are forced to navigate the criminal justice system without the adequate legal representation that is guaranteed by the Constitution. 

Requirements of an adequate public defense system include thoroughly interviewing clients, conducting an investigation, informing the client of critical developments, and preparing for trial, among others.

Public defenders represent more than 25,000 people each year in Fresno County, with each attorney shouldering up to four times the recommended number of clients. The attorneys have so little time with their clients that they often can’t discuss the circumstances surrounding the person’s arrest or whether evidence exists that could be used in their defense.

Many immigrants – who make up 22% of the county’s population – are encouraged to plead guilty without being told how that can affect their immigration status, even though the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2010 that this violates the Constitution.

The failing public defense system also perpetuates the racial inequalities that currently plague the criminal justice system.

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