COVID-19 Special Coverage
California Judicial Council extends hearing deadlines for people held in jail
© WikiMedia (Michael Coghlan)
California Judicial Council extends hearing deadlines for people held in jail

The California Judicial Council held a telephonic meeting on Saturday to instate new measures for handling the hearing deadlines for individuals currently being held in jails in California. The state has mandatory deadlines to ensure efficiency in their jail system but is struggling to meet the deadlines with the COVID-19 crisis. The Judicial Council cited the thousands of confirmed cases in California for its need for stronger steps.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chair of the Judicial Council, requested the support of the chairs of the Judicial Council’s six internal committees in passing measures to allow Cantil-Sakauye to extend certain court proceeding deadlines until 90 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted. The meeting also addressed submitting a recommendation to Governor Gavin Newsom requesting an executive order suspending legal authorities that disallow the use of technology in court proceedings and permitting the chair of the judicial council to extend certain deadlines until after the state of emergency is lifted. Furthermore, the measures allow superior courts to use technology whenever possible for court proceedings to “meet the constitutional due process rights of defendants, and to comply with social distancing mandates.”

The Council emphasized in their report on the meeting that these measures were necessary to preserve safety as well:

[T]he Judicial Council should take these temporary actions due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to protect the health and safety of the public, court employees, attorneys, litigants, and judicial officers, as well as staff and inmates in detention facilities, and law enforcement.

The measures were not circulated for public comment “[d]ue to the incredible speed with which the COVID-19 pandemic has spread and the urgent need to provide courts with the tools necessary to keep providing necessary services, while protecting the health and safety of the public and those who interact with the courts.”

This is not California’s first step in adjusting its incarceration system during the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 24, the Executive Department issued a state of emergency requiring actions such as regular staff screenings, quarantining of inmates coming into the jail, suspending the issuance of parole except over video, restricting visitation, and more. Furthermore, the Chief Justice and Chair of the Judicial Council has issued two advisories, one order, and around 80 individual emergency orders at court request during the pandemic.

This is among a host of national initiatives for handling corrections during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, some inmates, such as Michael Cohen, have requested early release. The US attorney general has pushed for more expansive at-home confinement, and the American Civil Liberties Union has filed emergency petitions in several states requesting a reduction on the number of people incarcerated.

For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.