By Juan Garcia Urrutia
WOODLAND, CA – On Monday, April 27, the Yolo County Superior Court received a motion to designate a space within the Monroe Detention Center as an extension of the court. The court is now considering if this is a viable option, given the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The motion was submitted by Deputy District Attorney Garret Hamilton, during what was supposed to be a preliminary hearing for Joseph Deaton who is being charged with multiple felony counts including kidnapping, burglary, and rape.
Normally, when an individual is charged with a felony crime, the defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing, where the prosecution (usually the District Attorney’s Office) introduces evidence to the court, including witness testimony. The defense also has an opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses and challenge any charges by the prosecution. The judge then decides whether there is enough evidence presented by the prosecution to establish probable cause that the defendant did commit the crime. If the judge decides there is enough evidence, a trial date is set to either convict or acquit the defendant. Otherwise, the case is dismissed.
Preliminary hearings typically take place within the courthouse, where the defendant has an opportunity to speak with counsel privately; however, the current social distancing measures imposed by state officials have made it difficult for the court to hold preliminary hearings in person. Courts are also required to hold preliminary hearings within a specific amount of days from the initial arraignment.
To address these issues, the California Judicial Council, headed by the California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, have given courts the opportunity to hold court proceedings over video conferencing apps such as Zoom. Moreover, the Chief Justice has extended the timeframe that courts are required to hold preliminary hearings to 30 court days.
At the Yolo County Courthouse, court proceedings are starting to be held over Zoom, however, in-person preliminary hearings are not. Defendants have the option to waive in-person hearings for a remote preliminary, however, some defendants such as Mr. Deaton refuse to waive that right.
Mr. Hamilton has asked the court to designate a space within the Monroe Detention Center in Woodland to be used as an extension of the court. He argues that other courts, such as the San Diego Superior Court, have already done this.
The judge considering the motion stated that he would not move forward with the motion until counsel for the sheriff’s department has been notified of the request.
“If we get to a point where we direct or ask the sheriff to do certain things at their jail, I think they should be a part of the conversation before any orders are made,” said Judge Peter Williams.
Mr. Hamilton stated that the DA’s office envisions a method where the defendant will live stream from the jail, similar to what has already been taking place for court hearings. He also stated that defense counsel will also have the option of being in jail with the defendant. Mr. Hamilton explained that the sheriff’s office has made it possible for the defendant to speak privately with counsel even if the defense counsel is not present in person.
Judge Williams did not make a decision regarding the motion, and has asked the prosecution to notify both the sheriff and county counsel to discuss the matter before a decision can be made. The court will be revisiting the motion on Friday, May 1, at 9 a.m.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9