By Julietta Bisharyan
SACRAMENTO – In the Sacramento County Superior Court, defense attorneys argue for bail reductions, citing the potential risk of spreading COVID-19 in prisons.
Two weeks ago, the Judicial Council of California voted on the emergency order to temporarily set cash bail to $0 in some cases to reduce the population of incarcerated people and limit the spread of COVID-19. Although only some cases, such as misdemeanors and lower-level felonies, are getting $0 bail, it appears that violent felonies are also getting bail reductions amid the crisis.
“The novel coronavirus has forced our system of justice to confront a not-so-novel question, one that largely defined the criminal justice reform movement even prior to the pandemic: Does keeping huge numbers of people in-custody on small-time offenses pose a greater threat to us all than letting them out?” former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón asked. “This virus does not care if you’re a prosecutor, victim or a defendant. Innocent or guilty, this virus can still kill you.”
At the same time, most defendants charged with non-violent cases in the Sacramento County Superior Court are being released on recognizance, meaning that the defendant will show up for future court appearances and not engage in illegal activity while out.
“Given the circumstances, I’m ready to release him and let him sign on for a program,” said Judge Steven Gevercer during today’s hearing.
One defendant charged for a hit-and-run which led to the injury of two victims, had his bail set to $160,000. With an enhancement of great bodily injuries, district attorney Cody Winchester asked that the judge set the bail higher, given his lengthy criminal history.
In the past, the defendant, Mr. Williams, has been arrested for evading a peace officer. He has also been charged for the possession of a firearm three times.
The defense attorney, however, asked that his bail be set to $90,000, considering that the defendant lives with his mother, who ironically works at the DMV.
Judge Gevercer finally settled on the bail of $100,000, lowering it by $60,000 from the original amount.
The defendant being addressed owed 75 days on one misdemeanor charge and 60 days on another. He was directed to sign up for an alternate program with a sheriff, such as a detention work project, or turn himself back in to finish his time by October 9.
Another defendant, charged with vehicle theft and of receiving stolen property, had his bail set to zero and was thus released.
The judge told the defendant that he is still subject to search and seizure, that he must call the probation office within two days to check in. He is also required to come back to court on June 22 at 8:30 am.
Justin Heart, who was charged for assaulting his former roommate, had his bail set at $50,000. According to District Attorney Winchester, Heart got into a mutual fight with his roommate and ended up using a wrench as a weapon.
The defense attorney argued that Heart be released on personal recognizance or have his bail set lower since he has no prior criminal history and he is only 20 years old.
“I will release you on recognizance, given the virus situation,” said the judge.
Following Heart’s departure, Deputy Ross notified the judge that the next defendant was not present due to safety and medical reasons.
“Should we try tomorrow then?” the judge asked the defense attorney.
The remainder of the hearings wrapped up quickly with more defendants released with $0 bail.
Omar Williams, who was charged with petty theft, was released on the condition that he stay away from Rite Aid, the site of his crime.
“That’s it,” concluded the judge, ending the live-stream early for Department 62.
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