COVID-19 Ruse for Social Justice Agenda of Early Release for Charged Criminals

Presidential advisor Rahm Emanuel, speaking about the financial crisis in 2008, said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste… it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

The California Judicial Council, a little-known state entity that controls the entire court system, decided to use the Covid-19 crisis to implement its views on pre-trial release. In doing so, its members put public safety at risk.

The Council is chaired by the Chief Justice and its membership is largely comprised of Superior Court Judges and Appellate Court Justices. One of those Justices now oversees the Judicial Council’s continuing efforts to eliminate bail. A two year study by the Council that suggested $0 bail and other pre-trial early release measures inspired Senate Bill 10 (D-Hertzberg) which ended bail in California and replaced it with a risk assessment system as recommended by the Judicial Council. An initiative to overturn this law has now interrupted this plan and has qualified for the November ballot. Voters will decide if ending bail makes common sense for public safety. Based on the lessons of its use during this pandemic, we have a lot of examples why this is now highly questionable.

This same Justice has now recommended Emergency Rule 4 to the Judicial Council which was unanimously adopted. Rule 4 sets bail at $0 for all crimes except for 13 categories of serious and/or violent crimes. The remaining crimes are eligible for $0 bail and inmates charged with those crimes are eligible for immediate release from jail.

Although the Judicial Council’s study recommended a pre-trial inmate risk assessment as a critical early release or $0 bail measure, this risk-assessment of danger to the community was left out of Rule 4. Jail capacity and social distancing were represented as the reasons to adopt the emergency measures; yet once those measures were achieved Rule 4 was crafted without a stop-gap to limit Rule 4’s use once those safe jail thresholds had been met. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes has taken proactive steps to protect the health and safety of jail staff including implementing all safety measures mandated by the Center for Disease Control. The jail’s population has been reduced by 45% over the last two months. Yet early release by the courts continues when no such overcrowding safety net is needed or necessary.

The reason neither jail overcrowding nor risk assessment are factors in the Council’s Rule 4 is that the rule is nothing more than a pilot project on pre-trial detention. The Justice herself admitted during a Judicial Council conference call that a Council working group spent the last two years working on a $0 bail project because, in her own words, pre-trial detention is “unfair and unsafe.” Timing is everything and the Judicial Council seized the opportunity provided by the health crisis to roll out a social experiment to eliminate bail. The pandemic may have been the publicly stated reason, but the foundation for $0 bail had been years early advocated by the Judicial Council. They made sure this crisis didn’t go to waste.

While the initial urgent need to reduce jail population was an important and necessary assertion, the Judicial Council unnecessarily and dangerously mixed its socially progressive goals of ending bail into these emergency rules.

That social agenda has exploited this pandemic as an excuse to empty jails and prisons across the nation in order to justify such measures as keeping with protection of the public. Rule 4’s misuse has exposed the ruse.

Here in Orange County, Commissioner Joseph Dane has given new meaning to early release. He often fails to consider the risk to public safety when ordering release, instead making a record totally relying on the pandemic and Rule 4 as his authority. He unilaterally refuses to adhere to state law that requires a minimum of 180 days in jail for convicted sex offenders violated their parole by cutting off their GPS ankle monitors or otherwise disabling them to avoid being detected by law enforcement. 

Commissioner Dane released seven convicted state parolee sexual predators who either cut off or tampered with their GPS devices, without imposing the mandatory 180 days in custody. One sex offender released re-offended within days, exposing himself to office workers. Six out of the seven have already re-offended. In Orange County in 2014, two convicted sex offenders were charged with cutting off their GPS bracelets and then going on a rape and murder rampage which left four innocent women dead. We all have reason to be concerned.

Social justice advocates will likely tell us that this experiment has demonstrated what they have been saying all along: early release and $0 bail work. They ignore what police chiefs, including LAPD Chief Michael Moore, are telling us – $0 bail is a gift to repeat offenders and a risk to public safety. On March 6, the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote an editorial entitled “The ‘No Bail’ Fiasco in New York” after the New York Police Department announced major crime had gone up 22.5% this February over a year ago. The reason: $0 bail reform which is “releasing people who have been arrested for one crime to go out and commit another.”

We’ve already seen it here in Orange County and not just with sex offenders. Commissioner Dane also recently released a third-striker career burglar on his “own recognizance” only to have him assault an Irvine police officer while committing another burglary just days later. Ventura County law enforcement leaders are so concerned that they sent an urgent letter to the Chief Justice imploring her to reverse these poorly thought-out orders.

We didn’t need an experiment to tell us what we already knew: when you let criminals out of jail they will commit more crimes. You also didn’t need to tell us certain crimes would go down when burglars know people are sheltering at home and can watch over their property or pick up Amazon packages off their porch before thieves can steal it.

This November California voters will have the opportunity to decide whether eliminating bail makes us safer. Certainly the Judicial Council has an unfair stake in the game and used it against us during this pandemic given its driving force behind SB 10 and conclusions that pre-trial incarceration is “unfair and unsafe” long before the Coronavirus contagion.

While it is an opportunity to not let a serious crisis to go to waste, the judicial mandate is to weigh evidence; not pre-judge facts.

Todd Spitzer, District Attorney, County of Orange.

Comments

  1. California’s judicial council must be populated by communist!

    Releasing criminals on the public is criminal! And should be treated as such.

    All courts and judges in California need to be purged and impeached!

    They are corrupt.

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