ACLU presents “Know Your Rights” event on March 16.


Madeline Ruebush

Emi MacLean discusses the misdemeanor courts in Kern County.

Madeline Ruebush, Reporter

In collaboration with the SoCal and NorCal ACLU, as well as Project Rebound, the Rising Scholars Program hosted a “Know Your Rights!” event on campus on March 16 to help inform BC students of their rights during trial, arrests, and as a non-citizen.

Lunch was made available for those attending and most attendees enjoyed a sandwich and chips before the talk began.

Bryan Hirayama, lead faculty for the Rising Scholars, introduced the main speakers of the event: Emelia Garcia, an investigator with ACLU NorCal, Mayra Joachin, a secretary at the ACLU office in Bakersfield, Rosa Lopez, Senior Policy Advocate and Organizer at the Bakersfield ACLU office, and Emi MacLean, an attorney at ACLU NorCal.

Joachin started the talk by discussing constitutional rights that both citizens and non-citizens as well as Miranda rights. She went over the 5th and 6th amendments as well as the rights people have when they are arrested.

”We need to know how to protect ourselves,” Joachin said.

Next to speak was Garcia, who discussed the Supreme Court case “Gideon v. Wainwright,” which created the right for all defendants to have access to a lawyer, even if they cannot afford one. She proceeded to discuss how people should be appointed a public defender, a lawyer, or an attorney if they cannot afford one.
Continuing the topic, MacLean spoke about how much Kern County has been upholding these rights…which is not much at all.

She first mentioned how all court proceedings should be open to the public, but just that morning she had tried to enter the misdemeanor court during a trial, but they did not let her in. And they would not let her in to watch another trial later that afternoon.

After condemning this, she mentioned how misdemeanor courts in Kern County do not give defendants a public defender like they should. Instead, they show they a slideshow telling them their rights, which are filled with mistakes, MacLean stated.

Rosa Lopez talks about local ACLU resources for Kern County Residents (Madeline Ruebush)

She explained that 70% of defendants in Kern County misdemeanor court who do not have a public defender plead guilty while of those who do, only 3% end up pleading guilty. She used this stat to emphasize how important it is for defendants to advocate for themselves and insist on being represented in court.

Lopez, who works closely with kern county residents, discussed some of the consequences of this high rate of guilty pleas. She said that even though these officials are telling these defendants that they will get off easier if they plead guilty right away rather than prolong their case, that’s not actually the case. A guilty plea will go on your record, you might be fined, and for non-citizens, the effects could be detrimental, possibly leading them to being put in a detention center and deported, simply for a misdemeanor.


The talk ended with the audience able to ask the speakers questions, oftentimes personal queries about how to navigate the court system and immigration system in Kern County.