Since the COVID-19 crisis began, this office has worked together with all justice partners to take dramatic steps to reduce the number of individuals detained in custody at Santa Rita Jail. The District Attorney has been working diligently for weeks with the public defender, defense attorneys and the justice partners to systematically release individuals who do not pose a risk of harm to the community or to a victim of crime. We have met at least twice a week, if not more, and remain in constant contact with staff at the Public Defender’s Office.
Ultimately, regardless of the actions of the DA or defense, it is the Judge who makes the final decision whether someone will be released.
“The District Attorney’s Office is doing everything we can, and should do to address this pandemic. However, we also have the obligation to protect the community from serious and violent offenders,” says DA O’Malley “we cannot and will not agree to everyone being released from Santa Rita Jail, as we must also protect the safety of the public. I will also note that it is the constitutional obligation of the District Attorney, which we accept freely, to notify victims of crime if there is a change in circumstances, such as early release. We do all we possibly can to ensure that every victim of a charged crime understands the changes being made and why.”
“This Office takes very seriously the duty to balance a defendant’s rights with public safety. It is very disappointing that the Public Defender has chosen this time of crisis to grandstand and to make politically divisive and disingenuous statements when what the circumstances demand of all public officials is unity and collaboration.”
Efforts to minimize the jail population are being made on multiple fronts:
The DA’s Office is only filing cases that involve serious or violent felony crimes. In fact, our average week’s filings since the Shelter in Place Order was given are down nearly 70% from an average week’s filing of new cases a year ago. The Court is only open two days a week (Tuesday and Friday) to arraign defendants on new cases. Last Friday, we filed three (3) new serious felony crimes. All other crimes presented to us we filed and set dates 60 days out so the defendants could be released from custody.
Efforts also encompass the setting of bail and the negotiation of sentences, which we are doing with an eye on minimizing the jail population. On April 2, 2020 by agreement with Presiding Judge Tara Desautels of the Alameda County Superior Court, all requests for “release on one’s own recognizance” for individuals with pending criminal matters, and all requests for “early release” for individuals who were already serving jail sentences issued by Alameda County Superior Court Judges, would receive “judicial review” by a designated judge before releases would be made. Since that time, Supervising Deputy District Attorneys have worked with the defense bar and agreed with defense requests for “O.R” releases and early sentence releases on appropriate cases, always balancing public safety in this time of “Shelter in Place”.
The DA’s Office is also agreeing to early release of people who are serving a previously imposed sentence.
On March 19, 2020 the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office agreed to the early release of 247 individuals already sentenced by the Alameda County Superior Court with scheduled release dates all the way up to April 30, 2020. By doing so, office effectively agreed to take off up to 80 days of an individual’s previous court ordered sentence.
On March 20 and March 27, 2020 the office further agreed to the early release of another 9 individuals deemed by Santa Rita Jail as having “vulnerable health conditions”. The office is reviewing a list of people containing individuals whose sentence would end by the end of May. While the release of “Medically Fragile” individuals is also taking place. Due to HIPAA, the DA cannot know which individuals in the jail are of vulnerable health or compromised immune system. However, without giving any information, on our request ACSO provided a list of individuals who may fall in that category. We agreed to most of those people. However, we did not agree to everyone on the list being released. For example, we did not agree with the release of a woman who repeatedly tortured her 5 year old child.
As of today, April 9, 2020, with the latest information from Santa Rita Jail, the jail population of individuals that are serving out their court ordered sentences is currently at 115 – less than half the number of individuals who have already been released by District Attorney agreement these past three weeks.
Regardless of whether or not a defense attorney makes a request, the District Attorney’s Office continues to look at individuals with less than 60 days left on their sentence and are making recommendations to the reviewing judge that we do not oppose early release in appropriate cases.
The District Attorney has set up a system whereby any defense attorney can contact one of four attorneys in the DA’s Office to ask us to look at a specific case for release, and we are doing that every day. The court has assigned two judges to whom we take cases for consideration of early release.
Review of the cases is vital for public safety; cannot jeopardize the safety of victims or the community by abandoning this duty. We must take the necessary care and precaution to ensure the health of those incarcerated and the staff working at the jail without sacrificing the security of victims or well-being of the county. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.
This office has and will continue to work with all justice partners, including the Superior Court, the Alameda County Sheriff, the Probation Department, the defense bar and the Public Defender’s Office to make effective and smart decisions.