New COVID-19 rules mean some defendants to be released from Nevada County Jail | TheUnion.com
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New COVID-19 rules mean some defendants to be released from Nevada County Jail

On Monday, the California Judicial Council approved new rules to help the state’s courtrooms cope with the coronavirus. The changes include eliminating bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies.

By Friday, Nevada County’s judicial officers had already spent days hashing out how to apply those rules locally, and a handful of defendants found themselves in court — appearing by video — on motions to be released with zero bail.

Those defendants, who had been pre-screened by the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices as possibly eligible candidates, each received a careful review of the circumstances including their charges and past criminal history. More contested hearings were set for Monday.

“Obviously, the judicial council set out some pretty clear orders,” said Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh. “We have been working with the public defender and the courts, as well as the jail, to implement that order, which goes into effect by the 13th. So we have been scrambling.”

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Walsh added the order gave the local courts some leeway to conduct individualized reviews of defendants.

“These are pretty extraordinary times,” Walsh said. “We want to make sure the wrong people are not being released.”

Walsh said that after reviewing in-custody cases, they found less than 30 defendants total affected by the order.

“It’s not just a wholesale opening of the doors to jail,” he said. “These are people who will not be an imminent risk to the community.”

Public Defender Keri Klein said she had spent two full days making sure her eligible clients had somewhere to go if granted zero bail.

“Behavioral Health, the HOME team, Hospitality House, all have been very integral to making sure people get services upon release,” she said. “This has been a concerted collaborative effort to make sure we aren’t just dumping people out into the street.”

In one case heard Friday, a man charged with reckless driving and felony evading of a peace officer got the OK for release with conditions including drug counseling as directed. Klein noted the defendant worked with the county’s HOME team for placement on Monday and asked to postpone his release until then. He was set to return to court in mid-June. Similarly, a woman charged with misdemeanor drug offenses received no objections from the prosecutor and was set to be released later that day with terms that included no controlled substances.

“Be safe, be well,” Superior Court Judge Scott Thomsen told her, warning her about the shelter-in-place requirements.

One defendant’s motion was not successful, after Thomsen lowered his bail only slightly, to $25,000.

Walsh pointed out that Keith Rains, in custody on charges of reckless evasion and possession of stolen property, had a prior conviction and argued that should be considered. Thomsen agreed, noting that conviction was for robbery.

“With the allegation of evading an officer, that places the community at risk,” Thomsen said, adding his behavior would not bode well for compliance with being released on his own recognizance.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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