COVID-19 Outbreak in Yolo County Jail Impedes Defendant’s Right to Counsel, Delays Speedy Trial

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By Fiona Davis

WOODLAND, CA – A reported outbreak of COVID-19 in the Yolo County Jail Wednesday caused major delays at Yolo County Superior Court, including for one man who was unable to speak with his attorney, and may be forced to waive time and delay the trial despite his request for a speedy trial.

The sheriff’s office confirmed Wednesday its first COVID outbreak since the pandemic started last year. It said 15 incarcerated people are now in isolation after testing positive, and will be monitored and treated. Others in the jail who have been exposed will be tested every three days over the next two weeks for signs of the infection, the jail said.

The jail claims Yolo County Jail staff have been tested for COVID since Aug. 29, but with no positive results.

Joel Panisoan Moreno, Jr., was due in court Wednesday because he is charged with assault likely to cause great bodily injury, with an enhancement of a prior serious felony conviction.

Five years ago, in a jury trial covered by the Davis Vanguard, Moreno was prosecuted for similar offenses, when he and a co-defendant were charged with an “assault with a deadly weapon directly and probably resulting in application of force.”

Moreno has pleaded not guilty to all charges he currently faces, and is awaiting his trial in the Yolo County Jail.

His case was expected to be reviewed on Wednesday for preliminary hearing, and was scheduled for trial next Tuesday.

However, when the case was called Wednesday, Judge David W. Reed announced there was a COVID-19 outbreak in the Yolo County Jail where Moreno was currently being held.

In light of the outbreak, inmates at the jail are now required to produce a negative COVID test before they can be transported out of the facility. According to Judge Reed, several inmates have tested positive for the virus, while others have not been tested.

Moreno had not produced a negative COVID test by Wednesday, and was forced to attend the hearing remotely via Zoom.

Deputy Public Defender Aram Davtyan also noted that he had attempted to visit his client at the jail in order to discuss possible resolutions that, if agreed upon, might vacate the need for a preliminary hearing or trial.

Yet, because of the outbreak, Davtyan was not allowed to see Moreno, causing further delays in the case’s development.

Due to these setbacks, the defense attorney then requested for all legal parties to meet again this coming Friday either to reschedule the preliminary hearing and jury trial, or to discuss possible resolutions.

“My hope is, sometime in the next couple of days, I will be able to see him—maybe at least behind glass,” Davtyan told the court.

Deputy District Attorney Alex O. Kian affirmed that the case could end in resolution, but argued that it might be best to request a limited time waiver, at least until this coming Monday, so that the prosecution and defense have more time to discuss potential resolutions.

“I don’t know if he will be able to communicate with his client by Friday, and I’d like to see if that gives us more leeway to see if we can resolve both cases,” Kian stated.

However, the defendant has chosen to maintain his right to a speedy trial held within 70 days of his arraignment. Because his jury trial was scheduled on the last possible date, any later date would fall outside of the 70-day time limit.

Pandemic-caused delays in court proceedings have become a national conversation, with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stating that such time-waivers are not unconstitutional, and are instead “in the interest of public health.”

In Moreno’s case, Judge Reed noted that the court still held a pandemic emergency order that allows a judge to partially extend the normal time limit for “COVID-related reasons.”

Wednesday’s hearing ended with the prosecution and defense both agreeing to meet later to discuss whether a resolution could be reached, or whether time needed to be waived.

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About The Author

Fiona Davis considers herself to be a storyteller, weaving and untangling narratives of fiction and nonfiction using prose, verse, and illustrations. Beyond her third-year English studies at UC Davis, she can be seen exploring the Bay Area, pampering her cats and dogs, or making a mess of paint or thread or words in whatever project she’s currently working on.

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