Los Angeles Continued Prosecuting Low-Level Offenses Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Adrian Ovalle

Under their state’s guidelines to alleviate the spread of COVID-19, Californians are not expected to leave home other than to get prescriptions or groceries, go to the physician, and commute to tasks considered vital. As part of this effort, prosecutors– consisting of Los Angeles County District Lawyer Jackie Lacey– have actually vowed to prevent dragging people into court or sending them to the city’s overcrowded prison for cases that can be dismissed or dealt with at a later date.

“I have asked my attorneys to consider the health risks in every decision they make,” Lacey stated in a March 20 declaration. “I have directed them to consider ways to keep nonviolent felony and misdemeanor offenders out of our jails and courthouses during this pandemic,” she continued.

In spite of these guarantees, considering that California’s shelter-in-place required entered into result more than 10 days earlier, Lacey’s office has actually pursued cases versus people implicated of panhandling, drinking in public, driving with a suspended license, drug possession, and loitering, according to a review by former San Francisco District Lawyer George Gascón, who is going to change Lacey as LA’s leading district attorney.

Prosecuting low-level misdemeanors “will very possibly cost lives,” Gascón stated in a declaration on Monday detailing his own suggestions for prosecutorial conduct throughout the pandemic. Simply holding hearings suggests offenders, their legal representatives, prosecutors, judges, constable’s deputies, clerks, court press reporters, and translators need to congregate in the exact same space, he kept in mind– at a time when people are being advised to prevent gathering together in groups.

On March 20, the day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) bought the state’s homeowners to remain home, a male dealing with charges for drug possession and driving with a suspended license had a hearing in an Inglewood courtroom. Prosecutors submitted a case versus him at a time when LA County courts were primarily closed previously this month. His case was dismissed in court, however just after he had actually invested 6 days in prison and long after people started warning about the danger of the coronavirus dispersing in prison and jail populations.

That exact same day, 3 people in LA County were arraigned on a drinking-in-public citation. A minimum of among the offenders was bought to participate in 26 Twelve step programs conferences prior to their next court date, which would need them to either leave their home and gather in a group setting or have trusted, private access to a computer and the web for online conferences.

Those charges “could have been unilaterally dismissed or continued for up to one year,” Gascón stated. “Bear in mind these drinking in public cases are proceeding at a time when the state is allowing cocktails to be served to go.”

Last Wednesday, another male had a court hearing in Compton for driving on a suspended license. A deputy district lawyer opposed launching the person from custody, which Gascón stated was likely an effort “to force a plea in exchange for their release.” Ricardo Santiago, a spokesperson for Lacey’s office, rejected that the district attorney had actually opposed the person’s release.

On Friday, a judge in El Monte heard cases about a loitering citation and a misdemeanor panhandling case. Both matters were dismissed that day.

These sort of low-level cases “should have either been continued to a later date or unilaterally dismissed by the DA in advance of the hearing to avoid forcing so many persons to congregate,” Gascón stated. “It is simply not logical to insist that low-level misdemeanors proceed as scheduled when there is no serious threat to the community.”

Inquired about the choices to prosecute these cases, Santiago stated that not all of the offenders appeared in court and a few of the cases were dismissed.

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