OAKLAND (CBS SF) – The Alameda County Public Defender has condemned actions taken Saturday by the Judicial Council of California he views as dramatically restricting speedy trial rights in California during and after the COVID-19 coronavirus emergency.

“The right to a speedy and public trial is the bedrock of the U.S. Constitution and is one of the founding principles of this country,” said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods in a statement Sunday.

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“Losing that, especially after the emergency has passed, is something that should alarm every single person in California. If you’re going to take such extraordinary measures of denying people due process rights then you also have to take the extraordinary measure of releasing them as well,” Woods said.


During a special emergency meeting Saturday, the Judicial Council of California unanimously voted to approve temporary emergency measures to continue “essential court services,” such as protecting the rights and needs of the accused in a safe way while guarding the health and safety of the public, court employees, attorneys, litigants, judicial officers, law enforcement, and staff and inmates in detention facilities during a time when many courts are closed in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The specific measures include extending the 10-court-day period for holding a preliminary hearing and the defendant’s right of release to 30 court days; extending the time period in which a defendant charged with a felony offense shall be taken before a judicial officer from 48 hours to not more than seven days; extending the time period for holding a criminal trial by more than 30 days; and extending the time period to bring an action to trial by more than 30 days.

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The council’s actions were spurred by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency order empowering the Judicial Council and the state’s chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, to take temporary action to enable the courts to conduct business and continue to operate while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In her statement on Newsom’s order, Tani Cantil-Sakauye expressed her appreciation and assurance that “we will assume this responsibility with utmost care and judiciousness.”

Woods, the Alameda County Public Defender, said Sunday the Judicial Council’s measures were too overreaching.
If adopted in Alameda County, the action will cause more people to remain in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin for longer periods of time.

That will increase the risk of COVID-19 infections at the jail, Woods contends.

“I understand this is a national crisis, but we went from 0 to 120 miles an hour in one moment,” Woods said. “If we’re going to go down this road of denying people their speedy trial rights, then we should talk about releasing them on no-cash bail or some other form of release, such as electronic monitoring.”

In Alameda County, courts restricted operations on March 17 and are scheduled to lift the emergency order and reopen April 3, however it is extremely likely they will remain closed longer. Special courts are running twice a week for arraignments and daily for preliminary hearings in felony cases where defendants have not given up their speedy trial rights.

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