Man Found Not Guilty, but Jury Trial Took Nearly a Year – SF Public Defender Again Criticizes Slow Justice in SF Court

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Islam Natsheh was acquitted of felony assault charges here this week by a SF Superior Court jury that “relied heavily on a surveillance video that was not turned over by SFPD until nine months after the incident in question,” according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Deputy Public Defender Max Breecker said the video showed Natsheh “briefly jump in to defend a companion who was engaged in an altercation with another man who sustained several cuts, but that there was no evidence suggesting that Mr. Natsheh had possessed or used a knife in the fray.”

The PD Office criticized the time it took for Natsheh to get justice, noting he “spent 11 months in jail, seven months beyond his trial deadline, largely due to the growing backlog of felony trials in San Francisco Superior Court. 

“It’s a shame that we had to wait so long to litigate this case due to the court’s trial backlog and that this video surfaced so late that we didn’t have a chance to argue for Mr. Natsheh’s innocence and liberty much sooner,” said defender Breecker.

The jury found Natsheh not guilty of felony assault with a deadly weapon, and hung 7-5 not guilty on another charge that has now been dismissed.

“Everyone in this country is entitled to a speedy trial and that simply is not happening in San Francisco. While the courts have just recently been sending more cases to trial, we’re still only utilizing about a third of the available courtroom space in San Francisco while hundreds of legally-innocent people languish in jail under 23-hour lockdown well beyond their trial deadlines,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.

Raju has taken very public steps, including a lawsuit against SF Superior Court to get the court to open up.

The PD added, “Mr. Breecker and his team worked diligently to represent Mr. Natsheh, but were nearly stymied by a severe negligence of police investigators who sat on a video for nine months. Prolonged incarceration inflicts untold psychological harm to those who are jailed, and comes at a great cost to our city.”

Raju noted that, as of May 6, “there were 441 people with pending felony cases past their statutory deadline, or ‘last day’ for trial, of whom 221 were in custody; and there were 187 people with pending misdemeanor cases past their last day, of whom 29 were in custody.” 

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