Last week we covered some criminal charges that people may be more likely to break during the coronavirus outbreak as well as a small update about how the virus is affecting the due process rights of those charged with crimes. But the government’s efforts to contain this pandemic are creating a number of dramatic changes to the justice system that are worth mentioning as well. Here are some of the newest updates about the coronavirus’ impact on the criminal justice system though it is worth mentioning that changes are coming about nearly every day.
Reducing the Jail Populations in San Diego
San Diego County has announced that it will be releasing jail inmates 30 days early and the Sheriff’s office has committed to booking far fewer people than usual. The District Attorney is also quickly reviewing new arrests so they can inform the jail of cases they are rejecting so people can be released. Overall, their goal is to reduce the jail population by at least 10%.
This week the court announced that because it has put arraignments on hold until April 6, they will only consider reducing bail or releasing people on their own recognizance in two cases: 1) when the original bail is set higher than the standard bail schedule, a lawyer can argue for reduced bail. 2) when the prosecutor and defense attorney have agreed that the defendant should either be released on his own recognizance or that bail should be lowered. In either case, this can only happen when you work with a private criminal defense attorney who can file motions like these on your behalf.
That being said, it is impractical to release all inmates who are behind bars and some people who are arrested will be required to stay behind bars until their cases are settled or trials completed. Those who are arrested are going through disease screening before being admitted to jail to prevent introducing the virus into the system and quarantines are in place for inmates who display symptoms of the flu.
The Rights of Prison and Jail Inmates
Unfortunately, social distancing can be difficult if not impossible in jails and prisons and while these institutions are requiring more frequent cleanings and trying to get prisoners to wash their hands more often, preventing the spread of a virus this aggressive is difficult, if not impossible in confined populations. “Simply put, it’s impossible to do social distancing,” said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami to NBC San Diego. While many institutions, like San Quentin are already putting quarantines in place as a preventative measure, experts are warning that prison hospitals are simply not prepared to handle an outbreak of coronavirus.
That’s why jails and prisons in San Diego and the rest of California are banning in-person social visits, although video visits are allowed to continue. Visits from criminal lawyers are being approved on a case by case basis by the jail watch commander. Additionally, all group programs for inmates, including religious services, job training and education programs have put on hold for 30 days.
Coronavirus’ Impact on the Criminal Justice System
Those who are facing criminal charges may have to wait for their arraignments, readiness hearings, pre-trial motions, trials and sentencing hearings as all of these services are on hold until at least April 6 and the court will not be asking jurors to appear until at least April 3. Ordinarily this could be considered a violation of a suspect’s right to a speedy trial, but the law does allow for exceptions in reasonable circumstances and a global pandemic certainly applies.
The coronavirus’ impact on the criminal justice system will not result in a full shutdown of the courts, though most services in criminal, civil and family courts are being ceased for the immediate future. Family, civil and other courts are being impacted as well. Judges will still be available to issue emergency restraining orders and gun violence protective orders. They will still also be issuing warrants although all requests for warrants are required to be electronically submitted during this period.
Sheriff’s Are Ordered to Shut Down Gatherings
Officials are recommending people not get together in groups larger than 10 people and San Diego has authorized the Sheriff to shut down any gathering with more than 50 people. Those who violate the order will first be given a warning and then a “reasonable opportunity to comply.” If someone still refuses to comply, they will be guilty of a misdemeanor, issued with a citation rather than an arrest.
Peter Liss’ Vista Law Office is Still Open
While most people have been told to shelter at home, criminal lawyers are considered an essential service, so Peter Liss is still working in his Vista law office. His secretary is working in the office as needed and from home the rest of the time. If you need to see an attorney in person, Mr. Liss can see you in his Vista law office while still following the CDC-mandated social distancing protocols. Alternatively, he can also consult with individuals by phone and review documents by email.
If you have any questions about the coronavirus’ impact on the criminal justice system and how it may affect the rights of suspects or convicts, or need to schedule a free initial consultation, please call (760) 643-4050.
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