OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A defendant in a criminal trial has a constitutional right to a speedy trial, but three veteran Alameda County defense lawyers said this week that they are concerned that the jury’s trials have been suspended for too long. of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
California Justice Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye on March 23 ordered that all jury trials in the state’s top courts be suspended for 60 days because the courts are unable to operate as usual, observing health and safety guidelines. social distancing.
Defense lawyers said they understood the concern for the protection of public health, but warned that if the jury’s trials were postponed indefinitely, the defendants’ rights would be harmed and would ask the appellate courts to take action.
Attorney Chris Lamiero, a former Alameda County prosecutor, said: “Eventually, we will see a serious conflict between concerns about the virus and constitutional rights to a quick trial. I hope that years of appeal litigation will accompany this crisis. “
Defense attorney Ernie Castillo said: “We are in unfamiliar territory” because he does not know when the jury trials will be resumed, as he believes that most potential jurors will be afraid to go to court in the near future if they feel unsafe.
“Which juror will want to be in court? There is a lot of fear and worry, “said Castillo.
He said the prospect of long delays before the trial was resumed “is a scary idea for the accused” because, in the meantime, they are under arrest at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where 35 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, although 26 of them have fully recovered.
Castillo said his clients who face serious charges like murder “feel like they’re being left to rot in jail and the system doesn’t care about them.”
He said: “These are the prisoners with the most extreme (serious) cases, but they are also human beings with families and loved ones” and are “frightened” by having to remain in custody.
Lamiero said he also expects a long delay before the jury trials can be resumed again, because it will be difficult for judges to force prospective jurors to appear in court, but at the same time, he hopes that the courts will not try to conduct trials for video technology.
He said: “There are many things that can be done effectively in court with video technology (such as brief procedural hearings), but jury trials are not one of them.”
Lamiero said that if jurors are watching from home and are not in court with defendants and lawyers, they will lose the dynamics of the court and will have a harder time assessing the credibility of the witnesses.
“A trial does not translate into a canvas as if it were alive and personally, because it is two-dimensional and will become antiseptic and impersonal,” he said.
“It is better when everyone is in court on a collective journey to get the facts,” said Lamiero.
Castillo said he also dislikes the idea of conducting video trials, saying, “A trial takes on a life of its own and jurors need to be in court to see the dynamics and observe the character of the witnesses.”
Defense attorney Darryl Stallworth, another former Alameda County prosecutor, said trials with everyone in court are important because “defense lawyers need to be able to exchange information with their clients” as trials go on. progress and jurors need to be close to see lawyers examine. witnesses.
Stallworth said he agreed that, due to the difficulty in balancing the conflict between trying to protect the public from coronavirus and maintaining defendants’ rights to a speedy trial, “these issues will be litigated in the coming months and years”.
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