Man Acquitted by Jury in 1 Hour – But SF Public Defender Charges Man Spent Year in Jail because of SF Court Backlog

By Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office made a point Wednesday to note that last week yet another man was found not guilty by jury trial—but had to spend nearly a year in jail to wait for justice because of mistakes by police and the justice system.

According to the statement issued by the PD’s office, Christopher Welch’s trial “ended with an acquittal after Mr. Welch spent almost a year in jail, nearly eight months past his original trial deadline.”

The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning the not guilty verdict.

Deputy Public Defender Cris Lamb highlighted evidence and testimony that contradicted the initial reports of the incident that led to these felony assault charges.

“We are grateful that the jury came to the right conclusion in this case, but it is truly shameful that Mr. Welch spent so much time in jail waiting for his trial on charges that could have been avoided if the police had thoroughly investigated the claims from the beginning,” said Lamb.

Lamb added, “We were also caught in a vicious cycle of trying to get him released from jail to await his trial, but the judge wouldn’t release him without an appropriate program in place, which was never made available. Unfortunately, that resulted in a year of incarceration that greatly affected Mr. Welch’s physical and mental health.”

Lamb and the PD Office noted that in April 2021, Mr. Welch was seeking a safe place to sleep on a public walkway when a security guard from a nearby building began rousting him out with insults and threats of pepper spray. Video showed that both men walked away from each other, and that Mr. Welch found a discarded walker on the sidewalk, which he picked up and threw in frustration.”

“The walker accidentally hit the security guard who happened to stick his head out from behind a large pillar where he was standing 15 feet away. The security guard called the police, but he told them that he could not share the building’s video surveillance, which could have helped exonerate Mr. Welch against the security guard’s misleading claims about what had transpired.”

But the public defender said, during the trial, it “used the full footage of the incident obtained by the Public Defender Investigation Unit to impeach the security guard’s conflicting statements.”

The PD Office statement noted “Ms. Lamb attempted to get Mr. Welch released from jail prior to his trial, but several obstacles stood in the way. Mr. Welch is registered for MediCal in Alameda County, making him ineligible for placement in a San Francisco program unless he were able to establish residency in San Francisco, which he could not do from jail. Attempts to find him placement in Alameda County also failed, and the judge would not agree to release him if a program was not in place. This left Mr. Welch stuck in jail without recourse.”

“Mr. Welch’s case is sadly emblematic of so many of our clients who are living in poverty and met with criminalization and incarceration, rather than support and compassion,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.

“Our defenders,” Raju added, “fought hard to help clear Mr. Welch’s name and restore his liberty. However, to address the systemic issues that led to his unjust arrest and incarceration, we need more resources and treatment for people in need, and more courtrooms for individuals who have been accused to have their cases heard.”

Raju also noted his continuing complaint about the backlog at SF Superior Court, emphasizing that there were about 250 people, at the beginning of the current years, in San Francisco County Jail whose trial deadlines had passed.

In February, Public Defender Raju filed a petition with the California Court of Appeal to address the growing criminal trial backlog in San Francisco Superior Court, where judges continue to violate people’s right to a speedy trial.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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