COVID-19 Leads to Fewer Arrests, More Released Inmates

Data from the two largest law enforcement agencies in the Los Angeles area showed a marked decline in arrests, following shelter-in-place orders issued in the wake of COVID-19.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) made 14% fewer arrests in the first half of March relative to the same time period last year. The department made 2,944 arrests over those 15 days, as compared to 3,406 the year before.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, meanwhile, announced that daily arrests have dropped from 300 each day to only 60.

On March 20, 2020, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that she has directed her deputy district attorneys to take steps to reduce the number of people both in local jails and courthouses as part of her office’s response to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

DA Lacey asked her attorneys to consider the health risks in every decision they make and directed them to consider ways to keep nonviolent felony and misdemeanor offenders out of our jails and courthouses during this pandemic.  

A Concerted Effort to Keep Arrests Down

While restrictions on public movement have helped lower activity (and likely lowered arrests), both agencies have stated a desire to take fewer people into custody over the coming weeks and months, if possible. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said:

“We don’t want to tie up resources and impact the population in our court system or jails.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that police officers are refusing to arrest people for serious crimes or engage with the public.

“Right now, there is no indication whatsoever that officers are backing off in any way or not responding to calls or not dealing with people because of this issue,” Rubernstein said. “We ask our officers to go into dangerous situations, and often they have to put their safety aside for the greater good of the public’s safety. That’s the challenge of being a police officer.”

Law enforcement officials are attempting to strike a balance by citing and releasing people accused of less serious crimes, while still aggressively pursuing more dangerous individuals.

The Sheriff’s Department is also releasing lower level inmates from its facilities and reducing the number of staff onsite to handle booking and processing, in an attempt to lower virus exposure.

So far, the department has released about 600 inmates in an attempt to protect the inmate population — and law enforcement workers — from exposure.

Jails and prisons, because of their close quarters and vulnerable populations, have been at elevated risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. New York’s Rikers Island is currently experiencing a significant outbreak within its walls — something local officials are hoping to avoid.

San Quentin prison placed 1,800 inmates in quarantine in mid-March to stop the spread of the virus, and the state of California has suspended visitation and overnight visits in all state prisons.

Local public defenders and immigrant’s rights attorneys have asked local law enforcement to shield medically at risk inmates through early release and diversion programs, while also asking judges to cease issuing bench warrants for people who fail to make court dates.

Bail Motions to Expedite Release

Defense attorneys can file bail motions pursuant to Penal Code Section 1268ADMISSION TO BAIL DEFINED. Admission to bail is the order of a competent Court or magistrate that the defendant be discharged from actual custody upon bail.

If a defendant has appeared before a judge of the court on the charge contained in the complaint, indictment, or information, the bail shall be in the amount fixed by the judge at the time of the appearance.  If that appearance has not been made, the bail shall be in the amount fixed in the warrant of arrest or, if no warrant of arrest has been issued, the amount of bail shall be pursuant to the uniform countywide schedule of bail for the county in which the defendant is required to appear, previously fixed and approved as provided in subdivisions (c) and (d).

Penal Code Section 1275 provides general guidance on setting bail in a criminal case.  In setting bail, a Judge or Magistrate must consider the protection of the public, seriousness of the offense, previous criminal record and probability of the defendant appearing in court.

Penal Code Section 1289 expressly provides for subsequent motions to increase or reduce bail upon a showing of good cause. However, the good cause must be founded on changed circumstances relating to the defendant or the proceedings.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, Governor Gavin Newsom on March 4, 2020, declared 17 a state of emergency in California.  On March 20, 2020, the Chief Justice of California, the Honorable Tani Cantil 5 Sakauye, issued an advisory recommending steps superior courts could take to mitigate the effect of 6 reduced staffing and court closures and to protect the health of judges, court staff, and court users.  Given these emergency and extraordinary measures, it can be argued that there has been a “change of circumstances” in all custody matters.

Covid-19 may provide changed circumstances giving rise to a motion for the reduction of bail.. Given the serious risks posed by this deadly virus, recent release of non-violent inmates, decline of arrests and the reduction of criminal cases filed, a good faith argument can be made that there has been a “change in circumstance.”  Furthermore, the presence of past or present medical issues places a currently incarcerated person at a far greater risk of contracting and surviving this deadly virus while in custody.

Finding the Right Criminal Defense Attorney

At Goldstein Law Group, we fight for the rights of Californians who are accused of crimes. If you need an experienced advocate on your side, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.