Coronavirus, COVID-19 and Criminal Cases In California

April 5, 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 Epidemic (caused by coronavirus) is affecting every person and business. The criminal justice system is affected as well: the police, the prosecutors, and the county courts have made many changes during the COVID-19 epidemic. Many offices shot down the operations completely or slowed down their responses; many others adopted changes to minimize human interaction or increase enforcement. Here are the specifics as it relates to criminal law and DUI defense:


JAIL EARLY RELEASE DUE TO CORONAVIRUS: THE GOOD NEWS


On March 24, 2020, because of the coronavirus epidemic, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department released 1700 inmates from the county jail – in the hopes of slowing down COVID-19 infection rates. LA County is known to release inmates early – this, however, is in addition to the scheduled early releases. The release covers only inmates who were serving time for non-violent offenses and have less than 30 days left on their jail sentence. A person who is serving any jail time for a DUI is likely to be released early (but not including DUI with injuries). This is a good decision and will save the lives of inmates (many of whom suffer from various illnesses). Recently, a nurse who works for Los Angeles County Jail died from COVID-19. Being so close to other people increases the risk of infection – In Lompoc nearly 70% of inmates tested positive to coronavirus

If you are loved one or you are in jail – consider asking for a bail hearing as soon as possible. As we all know, the COVID-19 epidemic infection is higher in close quarters. This can be a major problem. Health Experts opining that ICE is violating federal guidelines regarding COVID-19 by grouping immigration detainees together. As we saw in the USS Roosevelt fiasco, keeping sailors so close together despite captains concerns lead to death


California’s 35 state prisons are now scheduling the release of 3,500 inmates due to the COVID-19 epidemic. The California Prisons stopped transfers of all inmates from the county jails to CDRC. If you were waiting to be transferred to the State Prison – you are out of luck for now. Sex offenders and domestic violence offenses not eligible for the early release due to the epidemic. Those prisoners will be released on their release dates.

The Orange County Jail released 130 inmates early to reduce the chance of infection due to COVID-19. This “early release” puts the Orange County jail population at the lowest number in a decade -at around 4,450. Currently, the Orange County Jail has 150 inmates in quarantine: this is after 5 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 could have infected their dorms.

THE POLICE AGENCIES AFFECTED BY CORONAVIRUS:

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department stopped arresting people on warrants of less than $50,000.00. If you have a warrant of less then $50,000.00 – you will be cited out. This is good news! Another good news is the court’s changes to their approach to bail and the adaptation of a statewide emergency order which will release many inmates (pending the outcome of the case) on their own recognizance. This rule will apply to all misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses.

As of April 2, 2020, the Los Angeles Police Department has 43 employees who tested positive for the coronavirus. Out of 43 employees, 2 remain hospitalized, with 1 returning to duty after recovering. Riverside County reported the passing of 2 deputies from the COVID-19 virus. This is very sad – as one of the deputies contracted the virus after transporting a jail inmate to a hospital. Also, five of the San Bernardino County deputy sheriffs tested positive for the coronavirus.

THE COUNTY COURTS CHANGES DUE TO CORONAVIRUS:

All county courts are adapting procedures to reduce operations. Orange County and Riverside County courts are closed until further notice. The Orange County Court declared that until the courts are open, all days are “public holidays”, and continued all hearing to a day after they will re-open the court system. Los Angeles County Courts and the Ventura County Courts reduced their operation to only emergency types of hearings, such as in-custody arraignments. All jury trials are canceled and most non-essential hearings, such as pretrials, are continued for 90 days. Los Angeles County Court’s clerk offices are closed to the public effective March 23rd. All traffic matters are continued for 30 days – including trials and other matters. LA Court presiding judge closed all courtrooms that are not engaged in essential functions and extended many statutory rights relying on California Government Code section 68115. GC 68115 gives the court broad powers to extend many deadlines in cases of emergencies (which explicitly cover epidemics). For example, the right to have a preliminary hearing was extended first from 10 days to 15 days under California Government Code section 68115(a)(9) – only to be extended again by the judicial council of California to 30 days on April 6, 2020. The right to have a jury trial is extended from 30 days to 60 days (GC 68115(a)(10)). A right to see a judge after an arrest is extended from 48 hours to 1 week. Now, if you are arrested, you don’t have a right to see a judge until 1 week later! We believe that the government now is exceeding the scope of its emergency powers and the scope of the California Government Code section 68115

LOSS OF RIGHTS DUE TO COVID-19: THE BAD NEWS

This criminal defense attorney is concerned that the COVID-19 national emergency affected the constitutional and statutory speedy trial rights. Governors, Mayors, and even County Health Officers are issuing orders (without the approval of the legislature) criminalizing conduct. You can now get arrested for a violation of a “stay-at-home-order” or being in a group of 10 people (here). The police think that they now have the power to stop a car because they suspect you are not on an “essential business”. To DUI and criminal defense attorneys, this is an example of abuse of power. This can easily turn into a DUI investigation, an arrest, search of your car, or worse. The police can say that the national emergency requires to criminalize previously permitted activity. We disagree: governors, mayors, health officers do not have this power. Only the legislature have the power to make new laws. It is not a crime to surf because it violates “stay-at-home” orders (here). An arrest like this is shameful and can ruin a person’s record. We can wait and see what happens next – but the trend is the loss of our rights. Contact us if you are arrested or cited for a criminal case during the COVID-19 epidemic. Over the weekend, San Diego Sheriff’s Department issued 22 misdemeanor citations to persons who violated the Governor’s Newson stay at home order. The citations are for “picnics” and “sunset-watching“. Some of the citations are issued to persons who were sitting in their car in Encinadas and watched the sunset. There was no threat to the public from this! This was an unnecessary exhibition of police power over its citizens. Misdemeanors are serious crimes that can result in loss of immigration benefits, loss of jobs, jail sentence, etc! These sunset watchers could have been arrested too! Because of the changes in the speedy trial rights – (you no longer have the right to see a judge within 48 hours), they can have ended up in jail for a week or longer waiting for the criminal justice system to process them. This is an unprecedented and troubling use of the state’s police power – used not to help the persons in need but to label those who disobey as criminals and to force them into the criminal justice system. The State police power is rooted in the Constitution. We are not at the level where such powers are authorized. If you are arrested during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, contact us. We will help you. For immediate assistance with your criminal case or DUI during the COVID-19 epidemic call us directly at (818) 921-7744.


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