A couple hundred inmates could be released from the Stanislaus County Jail by Monday as authorities seek to comply with a judicial order dropping bail to zero for all misdemeanors and some non-violent felonies.
In an emergency meeting on Monday, the California Judicial Council set bail statewide at $0 for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the jails. The order is set to go into effect by 5 p.m. Monday.
The council decided violent felonies would not be eligible for the temporary bail reduction.
“We are at this point truly with no guidance in history, law or precedent,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chair of the council. “And to say that there is no playbook is a gross understatement of the situation. In developing these rules, we listened to suggestions from our justice system partners, the public and the courts, and we greatly appreciate all of the input. Working with our court stakeholders, I’m confident we can preserve the rule of law and protect the rights of victims, the accused, litigants, families and children and all who seek justice. It’s truly a team effort.”
The council received and considered more than 100 written comments on the new rules from judges, public defenders, district attorneys, law enforcement, legal aid and advocacy groups, unions, attorneys, court reporters, interpreters and other justice system partners.
The order was made to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among a population that is not able to social distance to the extent of the general public, therefore allowing the virus to spread easily. For example, the Cook County Jail in Chicago went from having just a couple of cases one week to more than 400 confirmed cases among staff and inmates the following week.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said no inmates at the local facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Four inmates have tested negative.
"I'm quite confident we are doing everything possible to prevent the spread," Dirkse said.
Dirkse said the area already is seeing an increase in certain crimes and that this would likely amplify the rise.
"Statistically speaking, we are going to see a rise in crime," Dirkse said. "I think we will see a negative impact on our community."
A 2018 U.S. Department of Justice report on state prisoners released in 2005, found a 68 percent were rearrested within three years, 79 percent in six years and 83 percent in nine years.
The new order on bail does not mean charges are dropped for the released suspects. Their cases will continue to be processed through the legal system.
Dirkse said the region hasn't seen as many critical incidents during the shelter at home order for the entire state, but the department is seeing an uptick in certain crimes, particularly auto thefts, domestic violence and burglaries, especially those at closed businesses.
Those criminals looking to take advantage of closed businesses will likely be facing harsher charges if caught. Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced on Wednesday that anyone who commits a crime of burglary in the second degree, grand theft or petty theft, in the county, during the State of Emergency could be charged with looting.
The District Attorney’s Office has been working closely with local law enforcement agencies to address these types of crimes that have continued during this pandemic and have filed 15 separate counts of looting thus far. Twelve of these counts are felonies against seven defendants in six separate cases. The remaining three counts are misdemeanor looting charges against three defendants in two separate cases. These cases were generated from arrests made by Modesto, Turlock and the Waterford Police Departments.
Looting is an offense that would not automatically be granted a zero bail amount. If a defendant is charged with looting he or she will have to go before the court to address his or her custody status and will not be automatically released on zero amount bail.
A person convicted of looting must serve a mandatory minimum sentence of three to six months in jail and the court could impose an additional 80 to 240 hours of community service.