The Alameda County Public Defender has been an active participant in Alameda County’s Homeless and Caring Court since its inception in 2004. The Homeless and Caring Court is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice court system; sessions are held in non-threatening community centers [such as Saint Vincent de Paul and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project] rather than the traditional courtroom.
The court session is focused on the homeless and formerly homeless and assembles every other month to resolve individuals’ traffic, infractions and non-violent minor misdemeanor cases. The court strives to resolve matters that have created barriers to the homeless from integrating back into society.
Clients are referred to the Homeless and Caring Court through homeless service providers and must apply for the program well in advance of the court date. Potential participants must prove that they have made progress towards attaining stability, which is defined on an individual basis.
Before the scheduled court date, the Public Defender meets with each client to access their individual progress and to determine what matters can be resolved through the Homeless and Caring Court. On the scheduled court date, the Public Defender appears with each client and makes a presentation to the court showing how the client has progressed and how circumstances have changed since the client was originally charged with the offense, ticket or fine. The goal is for the client to walk away from court with these obstacles removed so that the client can move forward with their lives.
Through the Homeless and Caring Court, the Public Defender serves over 300 clients per year. Since 2004, the Public Defender has assisted over 2000 clients resolve over 6000 misdemeanor and infraction cases.
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