Category Archives: Coronavirus

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.

COVID-19 Leads to Backlog of Criminal Cases

Justice delayed is justice denied | The Daily Star

Excellent article by Denver Pratt of the Bellingham Herald discusses how Whatcom Superior Court now faces a considerable backlog of unresolved cases due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“For prosecuting attorneys and for public defenders, this means higher caseloads and for defendants and victims, it means delayed justice,” reported Pratt.

According to Pratt’s article, we’ve seen a decreased number of cases that would normally resolve at trial by dismissal or plea bargain. Caseloads have risen. According to Pratt – who interviewed Whatcom County  Prosecutor Eric Richey – the eight felony prosecutors had caseloads of roughly 150 open cases prior to the pandemic. They now have around 250 cases each.

Also, according to Stark Follis – the Director of Whatcom County Public Defender’s Office – of the 11 felony attorneys on his staff, each one has a caseload of 100 or more cases. Some attorneys now carry twice their pre-pandemic caseloads.

“There’s an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied and there’s a certain amount of truth to that. Victims don’t want to wait for cases to be resolved, defendants don’t want to wait for cases to be resolved, and the more pending cases you have in front of you, the less time you have to spend on any one particular case. There’s nothing good that comes from a backlog.” ~Whatcom County Public Defender Starck Follis.

My opinion? All of the above is true. Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, every state has canceled or scaled back in-person criminal court proceedings to stem the spread of the virus. This has resulted in literally thousands of Defendants waiting for trials and other resolutions, while creating a cascade of civil rights issues for the accused.

More defendants – especially those with health problems – are striking plea deals to avoid sitting in jail for an undetermined amount of time. And virtual courts are exposing the disadvantages of the poor, who are less likely to afford Internet access for court dates, as new criminal cases stack up.

We need to resolve these cases.

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.

Women Are Reportedly Drinking More During COVID Pandemic

Doctors are seeing a rise in alcoholic liver disease in the last year, especially among people under 40 and especially women.

Excellent article by reporter Yuki Noguchi of NPR describes how cases of alcoholic liver disease — which includes milder fatty liver and the permanent scarring of cirrhosis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis — are up 30% over the last year at the University of Michigan’s health system, says Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist there.

More startling, the increase disproportionally impacts young women.

Alcoholic liver disease often takes years to manifest. But it can become a threat for women more quickly because their bodies process alcohol somewhat differently than men’s.

So why the increased drinking? The reasons are clear.

Noguchi reports that women have borne the brunt of many new pressures of pandemic life, from virtual school and increased responsibilities at home, even as ads and pop culture have continued to validate the idea of drinking to cope: Mommy Juice, Rosé All Day, Wine Down Wednesdays. On top of that, eating disorders and underlying trauma from physical or sexual violence often add fuel to the fire, fanned by social isolation.

Just the sheer amount of trauma is really, really tragic,” said psychiatrist Dr. Scott Winder, a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan who treats patients with alcoholic liver disease.

As stay-at-home orders began in some US states as a mitigation strategy for COVID-19 transmission, Nielsen IQ reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with 1 year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019.1 Three weeks later, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use during the pandemic may potentially exacerbate health concerns and risk-taking behaviors.

Please contact my office if you a friend or family face alcohol related charges like DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

COVID-19 Impact on Trials

Coronavirus: California suspends jury trials in superior courts for 60 days – Orange County Register

Excellent article in Time magazine by reporter Melissa Chan discusses the Coronavirus Pandemic’s impact on our criminal justice system.

Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in March 2020, every state and Washington, D.C., has canceled or scaled back in-person criminal court proceedings to stem the spread of the virus. The snarled justice system has left hundreds of thousands of families waiting for trials and other resolutions, while creating a cascade of civil rights issues for the accused.

According to Chan, more defendants – especially those with health problems – are striking plea deals to avoid sitting in jail for an undetermined amount of time, defense attorneys say. And virtual courts are exposing the disadvantages of the poor, who are less likely to afford Internet access for court dates, as a staggering number of new criminal cases stack up.

The first few courts in the U.S. to stop jury selection and postpone new criminal and civil trials did so around March 2020. At that time, health officials began urging millions of Americans to stay at home and keep 6 ft. away from others when venturing out. Even the U.S. Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for the first time in more than 100 years.

By fall 2020, some criminal jury trials had resumed with restrictions, including in areas of New York State, where each county was allowed to hold one criminal trial at a time in courtrooms outfitted with plexiglass barriers and jury seats spaced several feet apart.

But the reopening was short-lived, reports Chan. A surge in COVID-19 cases around the holidays forced another round of court restrictions. At the end of November, about two dozen U.S. district courts nationwide resuspended jury trials and grand jury proceedings, marking a “significant pause” in efforts by federal courts to resume full operation, court officials said.

Today, even in jurisdictions where in-person proceedings have resumed, limits on how many people can be in a courtroom at the same time for things like jury selection continue to slow the system.

In a pre-pandemic world, state courts typically resolved 18 million felony and misdemeanor cases annually, according to an NCSC study in August 2020, and an estimated 8 million to 10 million U.S. citizens reported for jury duty each year.

“We’re in sort of this holding period.” ~Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

Apparently, jury trials returning to any semblance of normality until at least 2022.

My opinion? The courts are doing their best to open again, albeit safely. Nobody wants a jury trial to become a super-spreader.

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.

A Return to Jury Trials

What Jury Service During the Coronavirus Pandemic Looks Like - The New York Times

Whatcom County Superior Court will resume 12-person jury trials starting March 15, according to a Wednesday afternoon press release from Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Rob Olson.

Several Whatcom County courts, including the Superior Court, used emergency administrative orders to suspend jury trials in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge Robert Olson’s March 3 news release said “extensive new” safety precautions have been put in place to protect the safety of jurors and the public in order for trials to resume.

“The suspension of jury trials was needed to protect the public and court staff, and it gave us the opportunity to redesign our jury processes with the input of public health experts, trial participants, and other stakeholders . . . Now it is critical that we re-start jury trials, which are key to the fair administration of justice.” ~Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Robert Olson.

Prospective jurors will have their temperature checked and be screened for health problems on arrival. Safe distancing will be maintained during the selection process and no food, drink or reading materials will be provided for safety.

Just one trial will be conducted at a time using both large courtrooms to allow for safe distancing, and all trial participants will have to wear masks.

Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 or other health problems will be excused from jury duty.

My opinion? Excellent news. Conducting jury trials during the Coronavirus Pandemic has posed significant practical and legal challenges for courts. Hopefully, our courtroom safeguards will help chart a trustworthy path to safely resuming jury trials soon.

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.