Jail Populations Are At Risk For Spreading CV-19

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Great article by Anna Flagg and Joseph Neff of the Marshall Project says describes how jail populations are potentially risky environments for transmitting COVID-19.

For jails across the country, the churn of people moving in and out threatens to accelerate the spread of the disease, endangering the incarcerated, the staff and the larger community.

Analysis of a database of county- and jurisdiction-level jail populations built by the Vera Institute of Justice shows the short-term flow of people through local facilities, including some who were admitted more than once, for an average week in 2017 (the most recent year with available data). Apparently, in a given week, more than 200,000 people are booked into jails across the country; roughly the same number walk out every week.

Thankfully – and according to the article – some states and jurisdictions have responded by releasing prisoners or cutting jail time.

“Jails are transient,” say the authors. “Most there have been charged with crimes but not convicted. Many are waiting to pay bail to be released until trial or can’t afford bail. The rest have misdemeanor convictions with sentences counted in months instead of years.”

Preventing the spread of the virus in jails is challenging. Social distancing is crucial, but it’s virtually impossible in dormitories with rows of beds in a common room. The same is true of two people in a single cell, or group showers or bathrooms that serve dozens. All these dangers escalate when jails are overcrowdedfilthy or understaffed.

Making matters worse, physical contact between staff and the incarcerated is often unavoidable: Officers fingerprint, handcuff and supervise prisoners, as well as escort them to court and drive them to medical appointments. Many other people also flow in and out of jails, like family members who visit; volunteers who counsel or teach or preach; contractors who stock vending machines; and lawyers who meet their clients. Many jails have cut much of that traffic in response to coronavirus by limiting visits, services and vendors, and by moving to online and phone communication.

The authors say that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Correctional Association and other groups offer guidance for corrections departments on containing the virus: Start frequent temperature screenings; take oral medical histories; limit visitors and vendors; increase cleaning; restrict movement; create spaces for isolating; coordinate with health providers; and plan for possible staff shortages.

The authors also suggest “de-densifying” our jails by reducing bookings and accelerating releases, something over which sheriffs have limited control.

My opinion? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps persuading judges to set low bond amounts and minimal conditions of pretrial release is a good starting point. Police officers can be persuaded to make mindful decisions when they decide whether to arrest and book a person into jail, or issue a citation with a court date. For the most part, it’s advisable that police officers simply write citations for misdemeanors except for drunken driving and domestic violence charges.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and incarcerated during this time of CV-19 outbreaks. And hiring an experienced, effective attorney is the best step toward making that happen. Getting out of jail is a huge priority.

COVID-19 Brings DV Crimes?

Officials: Be aware of domestic violence risks as you shelter in ...

Interesting article by Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press describes a possible uptick in domestic violence related crimes resulting from couples and families being isolated together by the threat of COVID-19.

According to Ms. Noveck, concern is high in cities everywhere, and meaningful numbers are hard to come by.

“As the world’s families hunker down, there’s another danger, less obvious but just as insidious, that worries advocates and officials: a potential spike in domestic violence as victims spend day and night trapped at home with their abusers, with tensions rising, nowhere to escape, limited or no access to friends or relatives — and no idea when it will end.”

“In some cases, officials worry about a spike in calls, and in others, about a drop in calls, which might indicate that victims cannot find a safe way to reach out for help,” says Noveck.

In Los Angeles, officials have been bracing for a spike in abuse. “When cabin fever sets in, give it a week or two, people get tired of seeing each other and then you might have domestic violence,” said Alex Villanueva, the sheriff of Los Angeles County.

“We started getting on this as soon as soon as we started seeing the handwriting on the wall,” said Patti Giggans, executive director of the nonprofit Peace Over Violence in Los Angeles.

“One of the key challenges of this health pandemic is that home isn’t a safe place for everyone,” said Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, based in Chicago. “Victims and the abusers have to stay at the scene of the crime.” The group helps run a statewide 24-hour hotline, which has seen a spike in the average number of daily calls, from about 60 to 90, since confinement orders went into effect last weekend.

And at the group Women Safe, there’s been an uptick in calls. One change, said Frederique Martz, who runs the group, is that domestic violence victims are no longer being referred to hospitals which saturated with coronavirus cases.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving Domestic Violence during these turbulent times. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first – and best – step toward achieving justice.

Coronavirus-Related Crimes Increase

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Informative article featured in the Seattle Times by Michael Balsamo, Colleen Long and Rodney Muhumuza reports that Coronavirus-related fraud are on the rise, along with concerns about hate crimes.

The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups, blames the virus for elevating racist and anti-Semitic messages, including suggesting that Jews are somehow responsible for the pandemic. Some hate groups have suggested tainting doorknobs or other surfaces with the virus so FBI and police officers fall ill.

Hundreds of masks have been stolen in Portland, Oregon, amid shortages for health care workers. Also, a Missouri man who was coughing told two store clerks he had a high fever. He was arrested after police said he threatened to give the employees coronavirus. People in Pennsylvania and Illinois were accused of similar crimes. Texas prosecutors brought charges against someone who falsely claimed on social media to have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a memo issued Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen told prosecutors they could charge people who threaten to spread the new coronavirus under U.S. terrorism statutes because the Justice Department considers it a “biological agent” under the law. In such cases, suspects could be charged with a number of offenses, including possessing or developing a biological agent as a weapon, he said.

“Threats or attempt to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated,” Rosen wrote in the memo to U.S. attorneys across the country and the heads of all Justice Department agencies, including the FBI.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other authorities are also working to debunk spurious claims about possible cures. They include false assertions that silver, bleach, and garlic could protect against the coronavirus, or that bananas prevent it. The WHO also says criminals are increasingly posing as WHO officials in calls and phishing emails to swipe information or money. The United Nations also set up a website to help prevent fraud.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has received more than 100 reports of virus-related scams, with losses totaling more than $1.1 million (970,000 pounds).

In the United States, marketing schemers have quickly pivoted to offering “senior care packages” that include hand sanitizer or even a purported vaccine, which doesn’t exist. Some falsely claim that Trump has ordered that seniors get tested. It’s all a trick to get personal information that can be used to bill federal and state health programs, health officials said.

“It’s a straight-up ruse to get your Medicare number or your Social Security number under the guise of having a test kit or a sanitary kit sent to you,” Christian Schrank, assistant inspector general for investigations at Health and Human Services.

Justice for the Jailed

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Great Op-ed article in the Seattle Times written by public defender Brandon Davis describes the challenges of getting justice for jailed defendants in the age of Coronavirus.

Mr. Davis poignantly says that given the scope of this crisis, it is inevitable that the virus will spread in King county’s two jails, where an estimated 2,000 people are currently housed. He says that even the simple act of handcuffing adds a risk — you can’t cover your mouth if you cough while your hands are tied behind your back. Additionally, Mr. Davis potently describes how the shadow cast by CV-19 detrimentally affects his ability to access numerous professionals involved in the justice system:

“I can’t visit my clients in jail without putting myself at risk. I can’t do site visits and interview witnesses. I can’t ask our social workers to meet with clients and put together treatment plans. I can’t negotiate with prosecutors in-person — it’s difficult to even get them on the phone.”

Mr. Davis points out that jury trials are suspended until April 24, and it is possible the suspension will last much longer. And once trials resume, there will be a massive backlog.

“The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a speedy trial, but because of the coronavirus, those who are being held on bond amounts they cannot afford are looking at many more months in an unsafe jail. COVID-19 has ground the criminal legal system to a halt, which is understandable in a pandemic of this magnitude, but our clients in jail are the ones left suffering because of it,” says Mr. Davis.

He describes a story where, on a Saturday, he had to assist his clients in King County Jail.  Before the hearings began, all 20 or so defendants are crammed in “the tank,” which is a small holding cell. Mr. Davis and his colleagues had to enter the tank to talk to each and every one of the incarcerated defendants.

“The visuals could not be starker,” wrote Mr. Davis. “The judge and the prosecutor were at a safe remove, but public defenders were working side-by-side with our clients, all of us at risk. Public health concerns the whole public, and whether the court and the prosecutors would like to admit it, people in jail are part of the public, too.”

I salute Mr. Davis for sharing his insights and writing such a fantastic article. The Coronavirus pandemic is a terrible blight on our communities. It not only affects the contaminated, but people like Mr. Davis who try to help them, too.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are presently incarcerated and want help getting released from jail. Under the circumstances, judges and prosecutors might be persuaded to release defendants or lower bail during this terribly volatile and troubling time.

“Emergency Order” Laws

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Interesting article by David Rasbach of the Bellingham Herald provokes some interesting discussion of the laws surrounding Social Distancing and/or proper distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) when they encounter large groups.

Recently, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a sweeping statewide stay-at-home order to help stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus that has killed at least 110 in Washington.

“This is a human tragedy on a scale we can not project,” Inslee said. “To be socially irresponsible during these times is to risk the lives of our loved ones.”

The emergency proclamation requires people to stay at home for at least two weeks unless it is absolutely necessary to leave for such essentials as groceries or medicine or for an essential job, said a spokesperson for the governor. It also requires a number of businesses to close that have remained open so far.

This measure was foreseeable. Emergency proclamations are done in the interest of public safety. According to comments made to Mr. Rasbach by Officer Murphy of the Bellingham Police Department, however, RCW 43.06.250 actually helps police enforce criminal charges against people who do not follow the emergency proclamation. It states:

“Any person upon any public way or any public property, within the area described in the state of emergency, who is directed by a public official to leave the public way or public property and refuses to do so shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” ~RCW 43.06.250

Interesting.

By all means, please keep yourself and other people safe from Coronavirus during these trying times. Doing so means following governmental directives when instructed to do so.

That said,  it seems egregious that failing to disburse or otherwise leave a public or private property under certain circumstances can lead to criminal charges. What are the homeless people supposed to do? What if there’s no intention to break the law? And/or what if there’s an emergency situation necessitating the need to be at a certain place at a specific time?

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges for violating a governmental “State of Emergency” proclamation. Hiring an experienced defense attorney like myself is the first and best step toward getting justice.

Police Stop Booking Some People Into Whatcom Jail Due To Coronavirus

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Informative article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald says that Whatcom County law enforcement agencies stopped booking people into the Whatcom County Jail for certain crimes on Thursday, March 19, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Apparently, people arrested will be booked and released for everything except certain offenses that represent a serious threat to public safety. Those crimes include domestic violence, violations of a no-contact order, felony DUI, sex offenses, burglary and other violent crimes. Those booked for misdemeanor DUI will be held until sober.

The memo suggests officers arrest, book and release people when they can, giving them notice of when to appear in court. And those who are booked on charges that pose a threat to public safety will be held until they see a judge.

At this point, seven Whatcom County residents have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness, one of whom died, according to the Whatcom County Health Department.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said the measures are looking out for the health of the people who work in the jail, as well as those incarcerated there.

“They’re in place because of some compelling public safety and public health issues. We want to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but do it in a way that doesn’t minimize public safety. We’re still booking and holding violent people. These are temporary measures . . . We’re trying to take the jail population as low as we can safely and reasonably do under the circumstances.” ~Sheriff Bill Elfo

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges and are jailed indefinitely in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Obviously, getting released as soon as possible is a major priority. And hiring an experienced attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Blaine Police Department Asks For ‘Nefarious Behavior to Cease’ Due to Coronavirus

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Humorous article from David Rasbach of the Bellingham Herald reports a Facebook post by the Blaine Police Department Monday, March 16, read: “Due to local cases of #COVID-19, BPD is asking all criminal activity and nefarious behavior to cease.” The post went on to thank all criminals in advance for their cooperation:

According to Rashbach, the post drew 120 reactions and was shared 66 times in its first 40 minutes.

“Schools, restaurants and bars may be closed,” reported Mr. Rashbach. “The Canadians are considering shuttering the border. And it’s almost impossible to find an available pack of toilet paper or a bottle of hand sanitizer anywhere. But one Whatcom County law enforcement agency is still hoping some good can come out of the novel coronavirus pandemic — or at least some good humor.”

Well said, Mr. Rashbach!

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges during this harsh time of the Coronavirus pandemic. All people faced facing criminal charges have a constitutional right to the presumption of innocence. Hiring a competent, experienced defense attorney is tantamount to safeguarding these rights.

Coronavirus Upends Justice System

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Interesting article from reporter Jon Schuppe of NBC news reports that across the country, attempts to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus have thrown the criminal justice system into disarray. Court officials are trying to limit large courthouse gatherings, including juries, while also making sure that people accused of crimes aren’t deprived of their due-process rights.

Recent data collected by the National Center for State Courts reveals that concerns about the outbreak seem to have hit a tipping point, with 27 states under orders to stop jury trials or restrict the number of people who can come to court.

Some federal courts, including districts in New York and Washington, have also postponed trials.

“The only time we’ve heard of anything vaguely like this was after 9/11 or a hurricane, but that was only for a few days,” said Bill Raftery, a spokesman for the center.

The number of such orders is expected to continue rising in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation Sunday to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people, Raftery said.

Schuppe reports that while many aspects of the criminal justice system can be put off, others cannot, such as bail hearings, juvenile detention hearings, requests for temporary restraining orders in domestic violence cases and attempts to remove abused children from their homes. Laws granting defendants the right to a speedy trial generally have provisions that account for emergencies that made quick proceedings impossible, experts said.

Fortunately, a small number of jurisdictions have sought to reduce the number of people held in jail before trial. They include Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, where judges are holding special sessions to send more defendants home or to negotiate plea deals. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner said he is considering whether to allow more people to be granted bail. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin is reported to have told his prosecutors not to oppose motions to release people facing low-level charges.

In other jurisdictions, judges are conducting more bail hearings over video links to keep defendants from congregating in court. Norman Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he hoped the crisis would “accelerate the discussion about mass incarceration and the need to find ways to have fewer people imprisoned.”

In the meantime, Reimer said, there is no clear sense in most jurisdictions of how they would deal with an outbreak behind bars. An inmate at the jail in Nassau County, New York, is reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus, and an employee of the New York City Department of Correction has died, officials said Monday. In both cases, officials said they were tracking who had been in touch with the infected people and working to contain the virus’ spread. Health experts say an outbreak in a jail or a prison is a question of when, not if.

“The ramifications could be catastrophic if not managed properly,” Reimer said.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged and/or incarcerated during this pandemic. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Skagit Courts Respond to Coronavirus

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Reporter Kera Wanielista of the Skagit Valley Herald says in a recent article that the Skagit County Superior Court is suspending some of its operations in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. These efforts include postponing trials, asking lawyers to only seek hearings on matters that cannot wait and telling those who are showing signs of illness to avoid courtrooms and court offices.

“We’re not going to be able to stop,” presiding Skagit County Superior Court Judge Dave Svaren said. “What we can do is reduce the population.”

As a result, all 12-person jury trials are suspended for at least two weeks, according to an administrative order signed Thursday by Svaren.

“Attorneys and pro-se litigants should use their best judgment in deciding whether a matter is emergent taking into consideration the current public health emergency,” the order states.

My opinion? Good decision. Although defendants have the constitutional right to a speedy trial, the public health concerns brought by COVID-19 create a risk that the juries can be unnecessarily exposed to the virus.

Coronavirus Suspends Local Jury Trials

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Informative article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald reports that several Whatcom County courts are suspending jury trials due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Whatcom County Superior and District Courts and Bellingham Municipal Court announced they are suspending all jury trials until early April and May, respectively.

Pratt reports that the emergency administrative orders that were signed on Wednesday, March 11, by the courts’ presiding judges are due to concerns over the risk of bringing together jurors in small spaces and large groups of people called for jury duty.

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court signed an order that gave county courts’ presiding judges the authority to change or suspend court rules as a way to address the public health emergency. On Friday, March 6, federal courts in Seattle and Tacoma also suspended jury trials in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Also according to Pratt, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings and events of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. The World Health Organization also declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic.

Whatcom County had its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus Tuesday, March 10, and the county declared a public health emergency. As of Thursday, March 12, afternoon, Whatcom County had 19 pending tests for COVID-19, which is down from 21 on Wednesday.