By Susana Jurado
SACRAMENTO – It’s a little like a higher math problem—the bottom line, as Assistant Public Defender Pamela Dominisse explained here in Sacramento County Superior Court, is that because of state prison delays of up to a year transporting people to prison, those convicted may have to spend more time in prison then they should.
As a result, Dominisee’s client’s sentence for felony burglary with the intent to commit larceny is now on hold because of the pandemic and restrictions impacting time served on behalf of the inmates.
According to the Sacramento County Public Defender Office, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has problems involving the transport of inmates from county jails to state prisons because of restrictions placed on them, caused by the pandemic.
This has affected the number of credits inmates receive as they serve time in local jails, waiting to be moved to prisons. Cases are not being monitored and defendants are not getting re-calendared to their next hearing dates, causing serious issues for the management of the prison systems.
Public Defender Dominisse argued Mariah Barksdale would be a victim to this debilitating system unless the judge moved to continue her judgment and sentencing hearing to a later date.
Judge Stephen Acquisto began the hearing on Friday by asking for clarification on the charges against Barksdale from either one of the lawyers in the courtroom that day.
Deputy District Attorney Rainey Jacobson responded to the court that the original charges against Barksdale included a first degree felony count of burglary.
The deputy district attorney further explained that Barksdale ended up pleading guilty to a reasonable related burglary charge in the second degree as a non-strike, but only got that low term of 32 months in state prison because she admitted a prior strike before the charge.
Public Defender Dominisse implored the court to withhold sentencing and continue the hearing to a later date.
Her reasons involved the severity of the charges, mentioning the prior strike that would double up her prison sentence. Dominisse discussed the matter of the pandemic affecting the ability to transport inmates from the county jail to the state prison, and ultimately “creating issues with their credits.”
She called to attention a number of problems occurring with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the managerial organization of the state’s prison systems, noting, “It’s my understanding that they’re still having some issues of getting the prison packets where they need to go, and having somebody at CDCR track the appropriate credits awarded to our local inmates that are currently sentenced to prison.”
PD Dominisse pulled up current information she received from CDCR the day before in the courtroom and continued her arguments that, even though they started transporting inmates, “it is very, very slow and it is my understanding that Sacramento is not a priority county…they’re kind of transporting inmates for three weeks and then pausing for one to two weeks, to see how things are going [with the number of COVID-19 cases in the state prisons].”
The defense lawyer reiterated her plea for a continuance of sentencing on behalf of Barksdale, emphasizing that it wasn’t the “fault at all of really anybody, and certainly not Ms. Barksdale.” She said the lack of a continuance could result in an untimely transportation to state prison, hindering the amount of additional credits the defendant could receive.
The PD then asked again for a two-month continuance, relating to the court that there may be more information to present about the case. Moreover, she acknowledged that even if there may be loaded calendars with a lot of cases, “I don’t think that should counter the equity and the fairness to Ms. Barksdale to get her appropriate credits, so that would be my request.”
Judge Acquisto then turned to the deputy district attorney, asking for her thoughts on the matter.
Deputy District Attorney Jacobson informed the court about her objection to a continuance, stating that the matter had already been postponed enough, especially since Barksdale already pleaded to the counts about a month before.
The deputy district attorney described that the case has already been continued because they have not transported inmates to CDCR yet, however—until recently, when they started again.
“The number of cases that we have set for prison and put offer judgment and sentencing are climbing rapidly for the judicial economy,” stated Deputy DA Jacobson, “The calendars are getting out of control very quickly, and I don’t believe it’s good cause to continue it at this point.
“I believe we should just sentence her so when they do and are ready to transport her she’s been sentenced and can be transported without it having to be re-calendared,” continued Jacobson.
After hearing both sides, Judge Acquisto could not find the gain in a continuance and questioned the defense further on the matter, stating, “I’m not really following what you’re saying about the credits because it seems like all I’m awarding is 50 percent good time, work time…I guess I’m just not seeing if we wait two months, in two months she [still] gets 50 percent credit, so I don’t see how this is…”
The public defender interjected and clarified the bottom line of the issue, detailing to the court that if Barksdale is sentenced with 50 percent credit on that court date, “when she has to do 80 percent, she will only get credit for 20 percent, while she is waiting in our jail to get transported to CDCR. Thus, she will no longer be getting 50 percent.”
She also described some programs offered by CDCR that can give inmates more credits, but, unlike in the state prisons, these programs are not offered in the main jails.
She told the court she did not anticipate Barksdale to be transported within the year, based on the information she found on the transportation issues.
“The other issue is we are having a hard time trying to find out who is calculating the credits for our clients after they’ve been sentenced to prison and remain here at the jail,” said the public defender. “We’ve been told [CDCR] is having problems tracking the prison packets and we’re not sure why that is. Sometimes [the public defender’s office] even tries to track cases and re-calendar people that should be timed served and they’re not, so it’s just becoming quite a problem.”
Finally, Judge Acquisto said he understood, agreed with the defense and set a shorter continuance for one month instead of two, on Oct. 30.
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