First of all, what is an "infraction"? Technically, an infraction is not a crime, because it only results in fines and not jail time. However, if you have ever been charged with an infraction, you know better. When you are charged, you come to court, face a police officer or prosecutor, and are found "guilty". If you fail to appear or cannot pay your fines, you can end up facing jail time or other severe consequences. For those who cannot pay, an infraction can quickly escalate into something far more serious.
The important thing is, because the system says that infractions are not crimes, you do not have a right to a public defender! Yet, anyone with experience in the courts can confirm that attorney representation makes a huge difference: identifying flaws in the government's case, protecting important constitutional rights, negotiating better plea deals, and giving defendants advice that allows them to make informed decisions.
This is where Homeless Criminal Defense comes in. We believe that everyone is entitled to an attorney in every criminal case, including infractions. Our primary goal is to get involved in cases where the unhoused face charges for status offenses but are not granted public defender representation. If you are unhoused and have been issued a ticket, click here to contact us right away.
In some cases, it is possible to charge status offenses as misdemeanors. In Palo Alto, for example, the vehicle habitation ordinance can be charged as a misdemeanor, making it possible to spend up to six months in jail.
Also, mishandling of infraction cases can lead to other misdemeanor charges. In some cases, if you fail to appear or fail to pay, your driver's license may be suspended, leading to a misdemeanor "driving under suspension" charge out of your next police stop. For the unhoused that live in their cars, or for the working homeless, loss of driving privileges can be a serious blow, and the necessity of continued driving leads into further problems.
Remember, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you face the possibility of jail time. This is undeniably scary, but it does mean that you are entitled to a public defender, a member of that special class of defense attorneys that works tirelessly, for ridiculously low salaries, representing the poor and disenfranchised. However, Homeless Criminal Defense attorneys do take some misdemeanor cases. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor because of your status as unhoused, contact us so that we can discuss your case and your rights.
To be honest, we cannot think of any felonies that are obviously status offenses, but we are pretty sure it is possible, and we are painfully aware that there can be a very short path from unhoused to arrested. If you are homeless and charged with a felony, get in touch with us so that we can talk about your situation.
The purpose of this site is to help Homeless Criminal Defense attorneys connect with the unhoused that need their services. We are not selling anything, nor are we looking for paying customers. Every unhoused that we represent will be represented pro bono (free of charge).
However, we cannot promise to take every case. HCD attorneys are donating their time and do not have infinite amounts to give. Additionally, lawyers operate under ethical rules that prohibit taking cases under certain conditions. To find out whether an attorney is available for a particular case, we will need to speak to the unhoused client one-on-one -- either on the phone, by e-mail, or in person. Click here for contact information.