By Shwetha Krishnakumar
SACRAMENTO – Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steven White—a former deputy district attorney—appeared oblivious to the very real threat of COVID-19 in the state’s jails and prison when he refused to release several defendants for relatively minor, nonviolent offenses.
And, responding to allegations about adverse conditions of detention at the county jails—including no showers and the inability to talk to lawyers, White urged the defendant to “work with the sheriff’s department” to address these concerns.
White—apparently unaware that other local judges have stepped in to respond to the Sacramento County facilities, which have been heavily criticized for poor conditions and treatment that have led to lawsuits—said he did not want to “interfere” with the jails.
In the matter of Anthony Delacruz, Assistant Public Defender Susana Martin, regarding the People’s offer of 265 days in jail for two misdemeanor drug use charges, called the offer “an insane amount of time given the facts of the case.”
Judge White, allowing that APD Martin required additional time to work on removing an active no-bail bench warrant in Texas and renegotiating certain terms, ruled that the matter be continued to Sept. 8.
Delacruz expressed anxieties about going back to jail until the matter was brought to court again.
Judge White opined that the resolution of the no-bail warrant and terms of the offer posed a bigger issue to Delacruz than the threat of continued detention, not acknowledging the threat of COVID-19 is rampant in the state’s jails and prisons.
Jail critics have often said that a simple personal drug bust could turn into a “death sentence” if inmates caught the virus.
When asked about any additional comments, Delacruz decried the conditions of his detention, stating he had been in custody for 10-11 days without showering, and had been allowed to use the phone only once—two common claims that the county jail was found guilty of in a class action lawsuit last year.
In response, Judge White stated that he consulted with the sheriff’s office on the matter, and that he does “not like to interfere with the jailing process.” He encouraged Delacruz to “work with the sheriff’s department.”
In the matter of Noman Saeed, a previously unhoused individual currently in custody for his fifth violation of probation, Judge White denied a renewed referral to the sheriff’s work service program, which would allow Saeed to work-off the sentenced term. Now, like Delacruz, he’s stuck in the county jail with a pandemic on the loose.
In her arguments, Ms. Martin indicated that, while Saeed had been unhoused for one and one-half years, his mother had agreed to take him in, and, if housed by his mother, Saeed would also be given a job by his brother.
Ms. Martin requested the court renew Saeed’ referral to the sheriff’s work service program, expressing concerns that if he remained in custody until his next appearance on October 8, he would lose this opportunity for mobility.
DDA Tetrault asked, “This is his fifth violation?” Judge White, confirming the fact, denied the PD’s request for a re-referral.
At this point, Saeed, apologizing for interrupting, implored the judge to reconsider, echoing that he hadn’t been able to see his probation officer while he was homeless for over a year and a half, and that he would “really appreciate” the court’s consideration.
Martin explained to Saeed that she had already conveyed the terms to the judge and the request was denied.
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