By Julian Verdon
SACRAMENTO – Judge Michael Sweet here Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court refused to release an autistic defendant without bail, who kept interjecting her own thoughts during court proceedings—including that she got lost on her way to the courthouse—as one of the reasons not to let her out of custody.
Well, that, and that she keeps breaking the law while out-of-custody on other cases, Sweet added.
Shelbie Jackson was charged with allegedly committing three felonies involving carjacking and stolen property. Two of the crimes occurred after she was released for her first charge.
Assistant Public Defender Susannah Martin wanted the judge to release Jackson on her own recognizance.
“She has [no criminal] record, she does have autism, [and] she has a family that lives in North Carolina. She wouldn’t be going back to North Carolina; she stays here at a friend’s house. She would like to have contact with [her family] by telephone though. And I believe these are all zero dollar offenses under the Emergency Bail Schedule,” said Martin.”
The Emergency Bail Schedule is a policy used to slow the spread of COVID-19 in jails by not jailing people who have not committed a serious crime.
Judge Sweet inquired about Jackson’s failure to appear on Oct. 7. Instead of Martin responding, Jackson chose to insert herself into the court proceedings abruptly.
At first, Judge Sweet thought Kitty Tetrault, the deputy district attorney, spoke. But once he noticed it was Jackson, he tried to tell her something, but she continued to talk: “It is hard for me to maneuver and figure out where I am going when I ask for directions. And every time I ask for directions, I wouldn’t get the right ones, or I would get lost. [. . .] I get confused really easily.”
Judge Sweet seemed confused and asked what she meant by that. Jackson reiterated that she tried to come to court on the correct date but that she could not “find the right places for things.” Judge Sweet told Jackson he wanted to hear the prosecution’s opinion on the matter.
DDA Tetrault objected to releasing Jackson on her own recognizance. “She has one case from August and then two cases from [October]. [. . .] She has three felonies so close to each other in addition to the fact that she already failed to appear on one—”
However, as Tetrault spoke, Jackson interjected again, saying that, “[Tetrault] cannot legally do it that way though.”
Ms. Martin advised Jackson to hang on and let Ms. Tetrault finish her statement, which was an argument that “[b]ased on her prior conduct in these three cases, I believe if the court were to [release] her, she would commit more theft related crimes. So I believe bail is appropriately set at $50,000.”
Judge Sweet then asked Tetrault if Jackson had been out of custody when she committed the crimes in October, to which Tetrault answered in the affirmative.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable releasing her,” remarked Judge Sweet. “I am sympathetic to her condition, but it actually hurts her chances of returning because she is committing crimes while she is out, and indicated in court that she gets confused. So, those are not good reasons to think she will appear when she is supposed to, and she didn’t before. I am going to deny her release.”
Judge Sweet set her bail at $50,000 for two cases and $10,000 for the third.
As the prosecution and the defense settled on when their next court date should be, Jackson asked what would happen if she made bail. Judge Sweet told her that if she could make bail, then she will be released.
Jackson then asked who she could talk to for bail matters, and they told her a bail bondsman would help with that.
“They won’t let me use a phone,” responded Jackson.
Martin then stepped in and said, “Judge, I have been hearing from my clients that they are not able to use the phone in custody. Perhaps the court could order a phone call for Miss Jackson?”
“I am going to have her work with the jail,” said Judge Sweet. “I don’t want to start doing that.”
Lack of phone calls in detention facilities stems from the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisons and jails did not want in-person meetings because of the disease, so they first began offering more phone privileges but then phased those out after a few months. Initially, California offered three phone calls a week in April but then cut it down to two per month.
Some facilities say they phased out the new phone programs because they will reinstate in-person visits, but many say those are not safe. Others also state that prisons and jails are only doing in-person meetings at a reduced and slower rate.
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