UFW v. The County of Kern

Active Case
May 09, 2023

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

Over eight years, more than 50,000 people in Kern County pled guilty to misdemeanors without lawyers at their first court appearance. 

Black and Brown defendants were particularly impacted by a plea mill intent on ensuring swift convictions at the expense of individual constitutional rights. 

The ACLU Foundations of Southern and Northern California and co-counsel Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Martínez Aguilasocho Law, Inc. filed a lawsuit today against Kern County and Kern County Superior Court for systematically denying poor misdemeanor defendants their constitutional rights to counsel and due process. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of UFW Foundation and three Kern County residents.

The lawsuit alleges that probation officers play a prosecutorial role well outside their legal authority by making plea offers to poor defendants behind closed doors, typically without defense counsel or prosecutors present. Judges then accept these uncounseled pleas in arraignments that often last less than three minutes.

Plaintiffs are asking the court to declare these practices unconstitutional and illegal, and to guarantee individual consultations with attorneys for all defendants at arraignment proceedings. The lawsuit also asks the court to prohibit Kern County from relying on probation officers to convey plea offers, and to ensure public access to these proceedings.  


Learn more

ACLU Sues Kern County for Operating Plea Mill (Press Release, May 8, 2023) 

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