Category Archives: Coronavirus

Crowded Jail Cells

Coronavirus spreads in California prisons: Latest cases | The Sacramento Bee

Great article by senior reporter for Newsweek reports that crowded cells in jails across the U.S. could help the rapid spread of Coronavirus. Top Democratic senators have accordingly asked prison authorities to reveal what contingency plans there are to tackle any outbreak.

According to the article, The Sentencing Project has called on public officials to release people in jail who do not pose a public safety risk. This jail population includes those housed in pre-trial detention or rehabilitated people.

“Existing unsanitary and overcrowded prison and jail conditions will exacerbate the spread of the new coronavirus . . . Elderly incarcerated people often pose little public safety risk but disproportionately suffer from chronic medical conditions and thus are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19.” ~The Sentencing Project senior research analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh

Ghandnoosh emphasized that time is of the essence to avert a public health catastrophe in the United States’ prisons and jails.

The sentiment echoes concerns voiced by other prisoners’ rights advocates, who fear the implications the virus will have for the 2.2 million people living in the U.S. penal system.

Last week, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers president Nina Ginsberg said in a statement that, given the spread of the virus: “There is every reason to question whether American detention facilities, as a whole, are up to this challenge.”

Meanwhile, Maria Morris of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project wrote in an op-ed this week that jails were not closed environments, and had staff and visitors coming into the facilities and returning home, posing a considerable risk.

Also, top Democrats signed a letter asking the Federal Bureau of Prisons about its coronavirus plans. presidential contender Senator Bernie Sanders, and former primary candidates Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were among the signees. The letter, which was also addressed to prison operators GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation, asked if staff and inmates who may be vulnerable have been identified, how they will be treated if they test positive and how staff shortages caused by the virus will be dealt with.

My opinion? Kudos to those involved in these efforts. Protecting incarcerated people during a contagious health crisis by expediting releases would reduce the burden on prison staff. It would also reduce demand for limited hospital resources which are shared with the broader public.

Please read Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged and jailed. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Attorney-Client Communications During COVID

Defendant in credit union robbery makes initial appearance | News, Sports, Jobs - Messenger News

This is an interesting case that arose in the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In State v. Anderson, the WA Court of Appeals held that courts must try to ensure that criminal defendants are able to confidentially communicate with counsel throughout court proceedings. Failure to provide a confidential means to communicate may be grounds for reversal on appeal.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2016, a Franklin County jury convicted Mr. Anderson of multiple felonies including murder, assault, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Mr. Anderson received a sentence of 1,126 months’ imprisonment with 36 months’ community custody, and was assessed $75,430.49 in restitution. A portion of the restitution was imposed jointly and severally with two codefendants.

Three specific issues were identified for resentencing: a vague community custody
condition, two scrivener’s errors, and imposition of discretionary legal financial
obligations in light of Mr. Anderson’s indigence.

A re-sentencing hearing was scheduled to address some concerns Mr. Anderson raised. His resentencing took place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington’s governor declared a state of emergency on February 29, 2020. Shortly thereafter, our Supreme Court began issuing a series of emergency orders addressing court operations during the pandemic. On April 29, 2020, the Supreme Court
issued an order that specified as follows:

Courts must allow telephonic or video appearances for all scheduled criminal and juvenile offender hearings whenever possible. For all hearings that involve a critical stage of the proceedings, courts shall provide a means for defendants and respondents to have the opportunity for private and continual discussion with their attorney.

Mr. Anderson attended the May 12 resentencing hearing via video. His attorney appeared telephonically. The hearing was very brief, generating only seven substantive pages of a report of proceeding. During the hearing, there was no discussion regarding whether Mr. Anderson had consented to appear via video.

Nor was there any clarification about whether Mr. Anderson and his attorney were able to communicate throughout the hearing. The parties agreed to modify the judgment and sentence according to the three issues identified in our prior decision. When addressed by the court, Mr. Anderson confirmed he agreed with the modifications.

At the hearing’s close, the court asked Mr. Anderson if he had been able to hear and understand the proceedings. Mr. Anderson responded affirmatively, but also asked how he was supposed to pay the outstanding restitution. The court instructed Mr. Anderson to confer with his attorney. Mr. Anderson subsequently asked the court how long he had to appeal the decision. The court told him that he had 30 days to make a direct appeal, and that he should speak to his attorney regarding the process. The hearing then adjourned.

Mr. Anderson filed a timely notice of appeal. He argues the videoconference resentencing hearing deprived him of his right to be present and to confer with counsel.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals began by saying the right to counsel applies to all critical stages of criminal proceedings, including resentencing.

“The constitutional right to counsel demands more than just access to a warm body with a bar card,” said the Court. “Among other things, it requires individuals charged with crimes to be able to confer privately with their attorneys at all critical stages of the proceedings.” It further reasoned that the ability for attorneys and clients to consult privately need not be seamless, but it must be meaningful. “It is the role of the judge make sure that attorneys and clients have the opportunity to engage in private consultation.”

The Court relied on State v. Gonzalez-Morales, a WA Supreme Court case with similar issues. In Gonzalez-Morales, the defendant’s rights were violated when the trial court failed to give him an interpreter to communicate with his attorney.

“Mr. Anderson argues his case fails to meet the constitutional standard recognized
in Gonzales-Morales,” said the Court of Appeals. “We agree.”

“Unlike what happened in Gonzales-Morales, the trial court here never set any ground rules for how Mr. Anderson and his attorney could confidentially communicate during the hearing. Nor were Mr. Anderson and his attorney physically located in the same room, where they might have been able to at least engage in nonverbal communication.

Given Mr. Anderson participated by video from the jail and his attorney was appearing by telephone from a separate location, it is not apparent how private attorney-client communication could have taken place during the remote hearing. It is unrealistic to expect Mr. Anderson to assume he had permission to interrupt the judge and court proceedings if he wished to speak with his attorney.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Despite the communication obstacles, the Court nevertheless held Mr. Anderson was not entitled to relief because of harmless error. It also said that although Mr. Anderson was not entitled to relief, this case is a cautionary tale for trial judges administering remote criminal proceedings:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the administration of justice in innumerable ways. Videoconferencing has been an essential component of continued court operations. But courts must ensure videoconferencing occurs in a way that allows for private attorney client consultation. The best method is to arrange for attorneys and clients to be located in a shared physical space, with access to additional communication technologies (such as text messaging devices) if necessary to maintain physical distancing.”

My opinion? The COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly increased the difficulty of practicing law. Courtroom proceedings went virtual or were put on hold, causing delays in justice. Law schools and bar exams were upended. The shift was dramatic. We’ve had to learn new technologies and skills. We’ve had to revolve our practice to adhere and comply with new Executive Orders from our courts. And In the face of change and challenge, we do what American lawyers have done since lawyers helped found this country: we choose to get to work to help to solve the problems before us.

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

WA State Patrol Employees Lose Jobs For Refusing to Vaccinate

Unvaccinated Cops Should Be Fired; Use Their Salaries on Public Health

Today’s press release from the WA State Patrol reports that 127 people employed by WSP were separated from employment for refusing to get COVID-19 vaccines.

Those leaving include 67 troopers, six sergeants, one captain and 53 civil servants, according to the announcement.

The departures from the State Patrol are spread across the state. Over the next few days, leaders plan to gauge the impact of the departures and move resources where necessary. The State Patrol plans to make similar adjustments for departures from its civilian jobs and is looking to fill vacancies “as soon as possible.”

Longer term, the WSP will continue recruiting and plans to fill three classes of police academy cadets in the coming months.

WSP Chief John R Batiste said the State Patrol will do its best to keep staff from becoming overburdened from the departures. “We have the responsibilities of the agency to carry forward and I am not going to ask you to do more with less,” said Batiste in the press release.

About two weeks ago, WSP said 93 percent of its 2,200 employees had been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Seattle Times. Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said last week that across Washington, more than 90 percent of state workers had been vaccinated. Inslee announced in August that state employees, health care employees and school workers must be vaccinated or provide proof of medical or religious exemption by Oct. 18. According to the Associated Press, the mandate is believed to be among the strictest in the nation and covers more than 800,000 workers.

In other related news, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that police officers should get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves and others.

Police unions across the country have urged members to resist vaccine requirements for their jobs. But Fauci said police officers should view vaccination as a key part of their job:

“Think about the implications of not getting vaccinated when you’re in a position where you have a responsible job, and you want to protect yourself because you’re needed at your job, whether you’re a police officer or a pilot or any other of those kinds of occupations.” Dr. Anthony Fauci,  Fox News Sunday.

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

Courts Are Clogged

Courts struggling with massive backlog because of pandemic

Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald describes how Whatcom County will use federal relief funds to aid courts in the growing backlog of cases that have transpired since the Coronavirus Pandemic.

According to Pratt, Whatcom County approved spending nearly $600,000 of federal relief funds to address the backlog of cases burdening the Whatcom County court system. The Whatcom County Council approved $598,319 for the county’s criminal justice and court system from the American Rescue Plan Act, the nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief measure that U.S. President Joe Biden signed in March.

Whatcom County will see roughly $44.5 million from the coronavirus pandemic relief measure. The funds are able to be used for three years. The money was part of a $1.6 million budget amendment  that the Whatcom County Council passed.

Apparently, Whatcom County’s court system is facing a  growing backlog of unresolved court cases stalled by the Coronavirus Pandemic. The money approved by the county council is an attempt to address those issues.

According to Pratt, the $598,319 will get distributed as follows:

▪ Whatcom County Clerk’s Office will receive $18,611 for a specialty court clerk.

▪ Whatcom County District Court will receive $88,178 for a clerk and a receptionist.

▪ The Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will receive $99,419 for two attorneys, one victim-witness coordinator and one legal assistant.

▪ The Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office will receive $262,506 for four attorneys, two investigators, one behavioral health specialist and two legal assistants.

▪ Whatcom County Superior Court will receive $129,605 for a court commissioner and a judicial assistant.

Due to an overload of cases, the Whatcom Public Defender’s Office has had to return cases to the county’s Office of Assigned Counsel for the first time. From January 2020 through July of this year, the public defender’s office sent back 609 felony cases and 115 District Court cases. That’s a marked increase from years prior, where in 2018, 34 cases total were returned, and 2019, 118 cases total were returned, the data shows.

Pratt also reports that the county also has 11 attorneys on contract to provide outside indigent defense, which includes lawyers from outside Whatcom County for the first time, The Herald previously reported. The return of cases of the Office of Assigned Counsel has led to the county’s budget for contracted indigent defense being almost used up as of mid-August.

My opinion? The Public Defender’s Office has skilled, hardworking attorneys. And obviously, they’re an extremely busy office. Criminal charges are nothing to contend with or take lightly. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. It’s important to hire an effective and competent defense attorney with the time and capacity to work your case.

Has Crime Increased?

Despite Crime Rate Decrease, Majority of Americans Think It Is Increasing

Very interesting article from freelance reporter Robert Cherry of The Hill.  It posits that although many individuals have benefitted from justifiable changes in bail and sentencing, crime has also increased.

Hill reports that in 2020, Philadelphia homicides totaled 499 — 40 percent above the previous year and just below a peak number of 500 in 1990, when the city’s population was virtually the same as today. And through July, Philadelphia is on pace to break its homicide record.

Also according to Hill, in January 2021 alone, there were 59 car-jackings, up from 18 at the same time last year, according to the Philadelphia Police Department — a more than threefold increase. There were 404 car-jackings in 2020, up from 225 in 2019 and 230 in 2018, according to the department.

A similar dynamic occurred in Chicago. As reported in 2018, Car-jackings have nearly tripled since 2015, with an increasing share committed by juveniles, thanks to a law exempting young carjackers from adult penalties.

Has crime increased?

Yes, according the U.S Department of Justice. It released a report stating that crime increased significantly in 2020. And according to an article from CNN, major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year. The reasons?  The Coronavirus Pandemic, protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsing are all factors.

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

Another Jail Outbreak

Cut COVID-19 risks NC jails and prisons | Raleigh News & Observer

Great article by Stacia Glenn of the News Tribune discusses how a COVID-19 outbreak in Pierce County Jail has up to 35 inmates testing positive.

The outbreak means the jail will only allow people arrested on suspicion of violent crimes to be booked. That includes murder, manslaughter, first-degree assault, rape, child molestation, kidnapping, child assault, domestic violence and possessing explosive devices.

Pierce County jail staff medically screens every person before they are booked. Inmates are provided with masks and given daily screenings and temperature checks, according to the jail’s website. And apparently, all three vaccines are also offered at the jail’s health clinic.

Ms. Glenn reports that since the pandemic started through June 2021, at least 398,627 people in prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project. However, Ms. Glenn also reports that number is believed to be less than accurate. Most recently, there are approximately 6,254 positive tests for inmates in Washington state.

Prisons and jails frequently suffer from overcrowding. Even in the best of times they are, by definition, facilities where people are placed in close contact with each other on a near-constant basis. Factor in the unique health challenges faced by incarcerated people and the limited availability of quality healthcare, and it’s no surprise that correctional facilities are uniquely vulnerable to diseases such as Covid-19.

Correctional administrators have limited control over how long people spend incarcerated, but they can use what authority they possess to release people outright or direct people to less restrictive forms of confinement. They can also ease conditions of confinement and increase access to health products. Some correctional authorities have already begun this work.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, and particularly its incarcerated populations, government actors have turned their attention to vaccine distribution as the solution to this health crisis. Though some states have explicitly included incarcerated individuals in their vaccination plans, many have not yet provided information as to how and when those behind bars will be granted access to this protection.

Please review my Legal Guide titled Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and charged with a crime during this COVID-19 Pandemic. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the best step toward justice. Nowadays, it may save your life.

COVID-19 Outbreak At Jail

Justicia fights for COVID-19 protections for people who are incarcerated - Furman News

Reporter David Rasbach from the Bellingham Herald reports the Whatcom County Jail in downtown Bellingham has seen a COVID-19 outbreak the past few days. The present outbreak has spread to 10 corrections deputies and one person housed at the jail.

Rasbach reports that since late in 2020, all corrections deputies at the jail have been tested for COVID weekly. One of the deputies tested positive on Saturday, Aug. 14.

“Over the following three days, additional corrections deputies tested positive during their weekly screening,” said Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Deb Slater. “We began working with the Whatcom County Health Department to track down the source of the infection.

Apparently, several corrections deputies contracted COVID while booking an individual who was uncooperative. This individual refused to answer any health-related questions or take a rapid COVID-19 test and demonstrated uncontrolled behavior during the booking process.

The sheriff’s office’s Corrections Bureau has since increased its rapid testing of deputies to daily, and additional personal protective equipment protocols have been put in place, according to Slater.

In January, the Work Center had an outbreak that affected 37 people, leading to some of the testing protocols now in place at the jail.

My opinion? A jail sentence should not become a death sentence. And yet our jails and prisons are filled with people with preexisting medical conditions that put them a heightened risk for complications from COVID-19. Our jails and prisons house large numbers of people with chronic diseases and complex medical needs who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, jails cut their populations by as much as 30%, helping to protect many of these people. But states and counties abandoned their efforts to keep jail populations low as the pandemic wore on.

Please review my Legal Guide titled Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are jailed and charged with a crime during this COVID-19 Pandemic. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the best step toward justice. Nowadays, it may save your life.

COVID Increases Overdoses

Coronavirus US: DEA seizes $1M worth of heroin, Fentanyl labeled ' coronavirus' bio-hazard, 'Black Mamba' in Bronx drug bust - ABC11 Raleigh-Durham

Great article by Brian Mann from NPR says that researchers have seen a significant rise in overdose deaths from street drugs laced with deadly synthetic opioids including Fentanyl.

“We’ve seen a very significant rise in mortality,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, who spoke Thursday as part of an on-line gathering of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The trend contributed to a stark rise in overdoses that left more than 90,000 Americans dead during the 12-month period ending in September 2020, according to the latest data.

According to preliminary figures released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic opioid fatalities rose by an unprecedented 55% during the twelve months ending in September 2020. Deaths from methamphetamines and other stimulants also surged by roughly 46%, an increase Volkow said is linked to fentanyl contamination. In all more than 90,000 Americans died from overdoses in the latest 12-month period for which preliminary data is available. That compares to roughly 70,000 drug deaths during the same period a year earlier.

As the CDC has updated its fatal overdose estimates during the pandemic, the upward trend has shown no sign of slowing. As recently as October, data suggested the country was on track for at least 75,000 overdose deaths in 2o2o. That would have been a grim new record, but the latest figures make it clear the toll will be far higher. Preliminary data for the full year won’t be available until mid-summer.

Studies have also shown a significant increase in the number of Americans using alcohol or drugs to cope with the pressures of the pandemic. One team of CDC researchers found roughly 13% of people surveyed either began using drugs during the pandemic or increased their use of illicit substances.

“COVID-19 has made us aware how negative the stigmatization of substance use disorders has been over time,” Volkow said.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face Drug Offenses or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

COVID-19 Increased Crime

Crime and the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know | SafeWise

Informative article by reporters Emma Tucker and Peter Nickeas of CNN finds that the U.S. saw a significant crime rise across major cities in 2020 during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Worse, it doesn’t appear to be letting up.

Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country, millions of people joined protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsed under the weight of the pandemic — a crime surge that has continued into the first quarter of this year.

Sixty-three of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to a report produced by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Raleigh, North Carolina, did not report increases in any of the violent crime categories.
It’s nearly impossible to attribute any year-to-year change in violent crime statistics to any single factor, and homicides and shootings are an intensely local phenomenon that can spike for dozens of reasons. But the increase in homicide rates across the country is both historic and far-reaching, as were the pandemic and social movements that touched every part of society last year.
A PERFECT STORM OF FACTORS
Experts point to a “perfect storm” of factors — economic collapse, social anxiety because of a pandemic, de-policing in major cities after protests that called for abolition of police departments, shifts in police resources from neighborhoods to downtown areas because of those protests, and the release of criminal defendants pretrial or before sentences were completed to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread in jails — all may have contributed to the spike in homicides.
Covid-19 seemed to exacerbate everything — officers sometimes had to quarantine because of exposure or cases in their ranks, reducing the number of officers available for patrol, investigations or protest coverage. It was difficult-to-impossible to keep physical distance during protests.
Through the first three months of 2021, a number of major cities have indicated they are still experiencing high rates of violent crime, according to Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “Some cities are set to outpace last year’s numbers,” she said.

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

Lawsuit Seeks COVID-19 Vaccines for Inmates

Opinion | Stop Unnecessary Arrests to Slow Coronavirus Spread - The New York Times

Excellent article by Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times reports that  a legal-aid group in Washington state has sued the state Department of Corrections, demanding that all state prison inmates immediately receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court by Columbia Legal Services also seeks an order banning direct contact with incarcerated people by DOC employees and contractors who refuse vaccines.

The lawsuit claims the state’s refusal to promptly vaccinate about 15,000 inmates violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It also claims the coronavirus infection rate in prisons is more than eight times higher than in the general population.

According to the article, since the pandemic began in March 2020, more than 6,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 people have died, department officials said. More than 1,000 workers have tested positive and two have died.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Jacque Coe said the agency will continue to follow the state Department of Health’s (DOH) published vaccine phase schedule. Coe said the schedule would allow for vaccinations for “all incarcerated individuals and staff in corrections facilities, based upon supply of the vaccine received” as of March 31.

“We will be working with the Office of the Attorney General to assess and respond to the lawsuit by Columbia Legal Services.” ~ Department of Corrections Spokesperson Jacque Coe.

The lawsuit names plaintiffs Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor inmate Candis Rush, Clallam Bay Corrections Center inmate Gregory Steen and Monroe Corrections Center inmate Justin Autrey. They claimed that prison employees do not follow social distancing guidelines and have refused vaccinations.

Columbia Legal attorney Tony Gonzalez said the Department of Corrections should work with “authentic, respected voices in the community to help spread accurate information and build trust around the vaccine.”

My opinion? Excellent. I hope the lawsuit gets somewhere. Incarcerated people are infected by the coronavirus at a rate more than five times higher than the nation’s overall rate, according to research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The death rate of inmates (39 deaths per 100,000) is also higher than the national rate (29 deaths per 100,000).

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