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.