San Francisco’s Public Defender’s Office Charges Criminal Case Backlog Is a ‘Humanitarian Crisis’

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SF Public Defender Mano Raju protesting jail conditions in September

By Darling Gonzalez

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In a hearing last Thursday, the recent backlog of criminal cases in San Francisco Superior Court was discussed between city supervisors and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office – the latter called the delay in criminal court adjudication a “humanitarian crisis.”

The hearing was called by SF Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who spoke about the injustices created by the backlog of criminal cases in the court system.

According to Melanie Woodrow’s article for ABC7, “SF’s Criminal Case Backlog called ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ as Hundreds Await,” and Woodrow mentioned the high numbers of cases that have been delayed.

Woodrow explained that 451 felony cases and 218 untried defendants remain in custody past their statutory deadlines.

Ronen replied to the report of the high number of backlogs and stated, “Every single person [had] the right to a speedy trial.”

The representatives present in the hearing included the SF Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, and Sheriff’s Office.

However, representatives from the SF Superior Court were not present, but it was said the backlog dispute was part of a pending lawsuit, and the court not discuss it.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic had continuously been an excuse for the extended closure for the courts, Supervisor Ronen argued that many public services have reopened.

“If the courts aren’t open already, why is that? People who want to exercise their right to a speedy trial are told to wait, noting many of those are in poorer and minority communities.

ABC7’s Woodrow explained that, during the hearing, the Public Defender’s Office called the injustice a ‘humanitarian crisis’ as they emphasized the racial disparities in the hundreds of people waiting.

“The failure to afford the most vulnerable and oppressed members of our community a speedy trial should give us all pause,” said Kathleen Guneratne.

Ronen proceeded by thanking the Public Defender’s Office and District Attorney’s Office for their ongoing leadership, including the lawsuit filed by the public defenders to make sure their clients have their right to a speedy trial and District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s advocacy for reopening the courts.

Valerie Ibarra’s article, “Supervisors Join Public Defenders to Address San Francisco Trial Backlog,” explains that people are being kept in jail cells 23 hours a day, with no access to outdoor activities or regular programming, and limited visitation.

In response to the extensive backlogs Marshall Klein commented, “Long delays deprive victims we serve of the justice they deserve.”

The hearing ended with an exploration of solutions including using civil departments for criminal cases and considering alternative San Francisco locations for trials.

According to Woodrow’s report, the committee voted to send a resolution to prioritize criminal trials while also opening the courts through a positive and safe recommendation.

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About The Author

Darling is an incoming junior at UCLA, majoring in English and Political Science with an interest in law. She is originally from Bell Gardens, California.

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