By Lauren Smith
RIVERSIDE – The continued spread of COVID-19 has had sweeping impacts on the function of the criminal justice system, including Riverside County, but hope is on the way in the form of a vaccine that Monday will be delivered to all parts of the U.S.
Until the vaccine takes hold, it’ll be difficult—as a Riverside judge explained here, noting a major outbreak in the Riverside courts that have sidelined numerous judges and staffs.
Judge John Molloy was set to hear arguments on the resentencing of defendant Yolanda Bourassa here in Riverside County Superior Court Friday, but immediately after counsel stated their name and the purpose of the hearing for the record, Judge Molloy sighed and laughed, stating, “Of course you are, marvelous.”
He then said that he could not remember if he had read the briefs prior to the case, claiming, “I can’t tell you that because I have had a complete memory wash because of current events.”
In three Riverside County detention facilities, there has been a total of 3,624 positive COVID-19 cases—146 from Ironwood State Prison, 1,778 from Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, and 1,700 cases in the California Rehabilitation Center.
Judge Molloy spoke about the impact these numbers have had on the courtroom, stating that the increase in positive cases has “caused further area of concern to the litigants and the court in general.”
He also stated that there has been a “workplace outbreak” that has led to, within the last 24 hours, a loss of “four courtrooms and five judges and the staff that go with them.”
Despite being slightly unfamiliar with the case, Judge Molloy did allow counsel to argue whether or not sentencing transcripts should be allowed in evidence and taken into account when deciding if resentencing is necessary.
However, Judge Molloy admitted, “There is no way that I will get to it today. I have a meeting in 30 minutes, I have a meeting in two hours, and I guarantee you there will be a meeting between those two meetings, and a meeting after those meetings. It sounds like I am joking, I’m not…I wish that it was a joke.”
Judge Molloy apologized to both counsel and the defendant for being unable to appropriately rule on the hearing set for the day, noting, “I apologize to you…normally you should be able to expect [the court] to be ready. I just had too many crises happen in the last 72 hours. I apologize to all of you.”
Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system extends beyond Riverside County Superior Court. Many defendants across the nation are unable to attend hearings virtually due to contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated.
In addition, detention facilities across California are unequipped to handle a pandemic, leading to a total of 26,885 positive COVID-19 cases and 96 deaths across all CDCR facilities.
However, there does appear to be hope on the horizon. According to Governor Gavin Newsom, California is expecting to receive the first batch of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this weekend and 672,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine in the following few weeks.
“Hope is on the way” Governor Newsom tweeted, and for the incarcerated population, not just in California but nationwide, that hope cannot come soon enough.
Lauren Smith is a fourth year student at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and Psychology. She is from San Diego, California.
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