New California court rules could mean more time in custody for defendants
By the numbers
Number of known COVID-19 cases in Nevada County: 21
In western county: 6
In eastern county: 15
On a typical Wednesday, the Nevada County Courthouse would have more than 100 cases on calendar, with traffic arraignments starting at 8:30 a.m.
Today, there are a mere 26 cases calendared, the new normal for courthouse staff as the county’s criminal justice system struggles to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
But hearings including trials, already postponed for weeks, will likely get pushed out even further with new orders issued by the state Judicial Council. And that move drew concern from the Public Defender’s Office as a potential violation of defendants’ due process rights, which Public Defender Keri Klein noted are guaranteed by both the California and the United States Constitution.
While Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said she intends to protect the rights and liberties of all Californians, she said the measures are necessary to protect their health and wellbeing.
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“Together we must play our part in ‘flattening the curve’ for our state and nation as this pandemic evolves,” she states in a press release.
The Judicial Council on Saturday approved temporary emergency measures to extend 90 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted. In a press release, the council states the measures were intended to help alleviate backlogs. The measures include extending the 10 court day period for holding a preliminary hearing and the defendant’s right of release to 30 court days; extend the time period in which a defendant charged with a felony offense is be taken before a judicial officer from 48 hours to up to seven days; extending the time period for holding a criminal trial, and to bring someone to trial, by more than 30 days.
Cantil-Sakauye’s actions will result in more poor people spending more time incarcerated, Klein said.
“These are people who are entitled to a presumption of innocence,” she said in an email. “Someone with means is going to be able to post money bond. Someone without means is going to end up sitting in jail for longer periods of time. I have nothing but positive kudos for our jail staff, but I am literally kept awake at night worrying about my clients who are locked up in custody during this outbreak, because I have read the articles and studies that document that jails and prisons are not safe during epidemics.”
Jail Commander Sam Brown said his staff continues to stringently follow protocols set by the county’s Public Health Department. Inmate visitations and volunteer programs remain suspended, although attorney visits are still being allowed,
“We have serious concerns, obviously,” he said. “We have created a plan for inside the facility. We have a quarantine process.”
There are no COVID-19 cases within the jail at present, Brown said, adding, “If we had an outbreak, we would have to address that.”
Klein expressed the hope that the local court would take due process concerns into consideration when developing local rules in response to the Judicial Council’s newest orders.
“There are no easy answers during these unprecedented times. And I understand that everyone is trying to do their best,” she said. “However, this did not take into account the impact on our most vulnerable citizens.”
Court Executive Officer Jason Galkin said Tuesday the situation continues to rapidly evolve.
“Regarding prolonged incarceration for pre-trial defendants, this is an issue that the court is working with the district attorney and public defender on,” Galkin said in an email. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already mechanisms in place locally for consideration of pre-trial release and the appropriate conditions or restrictions for pre-trial release. The court has not eliminated the hearings that correspond to these issues. … Our team is working collaboratively with our justice partners to identify and resolve any challenges while we all navigate this pandemic.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at email@example.com.
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