Prompt Access to Counsel (AB 1209)


Criminal Justice & Policing

Though both the United States and California Constitutions guarantee the right to the effective assistance of counsel, Californians are often denied this right. In counties across the state, indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors are appearing in court without counsel and without understanding the complexities of a daunting legal process. Once in court, they feel pressured into waiving their right to counsel and plead guilty to crimes they may or may not have committed, all without ever having spoken to an attorney.

For some defendants, an uncounseled guilty plea, even in a misdemeanor case, can result in life-altering consequences, including incarceration, reduced employment and earning capacity, or loss of housing or custody. These consequences are particularly severe for noncitizens, who may also face deportation, loss of immigration status, and permanent family separation.

This bill will improve fairness in the criminal legal system, reduce racial disparities, and protect noncitizens by:

  • Helping to ensure that people do not plead guilty to crimes without ever having spoken to an attorney and without understanding the consequences of a conviction;
  • Ensuring that people receive meaningful advice from an attorney before appearing in court;
  • Ensuring that people have access to an attorney following their arrest and booking into jail.

Primary Bill Author: Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles)


  • ACLU California Action
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center