Sacramento jail population plummets by one-third since pandemic started, report says

Sacramento County’s jail population has dropped by nearly one-third since the start of the global pandemic brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, according to a report.

The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday that Sacramento County was one of several to see a population drop in county jails since mid-March as officials worked to curb the spread of the virus.

The state’s overall jail population dropped by around 21,000 people while California prisons reported more than 5,000 fewer inmates since March, the Bee said.

Click or tap here to read the full story from the Sacramento Bee

Supreme Court says vulnerable inmates can be released due to coronavirus

The Supreme Court has rejected a Trump administration request to block a lower court’s order to release more than 800 medically-vulnerable inmates from a federal prison in Ohio.

The order handed down on Tuesday comes after four prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institute in Elkton, Ohio filed a class-action lawsuit saying conditions at the prison violated their Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“Prisons are not Constitution-free zones,” Joseph Mead, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU’s Ohio chapter, said in a statement as reported by the Davis Vanguard. “People who live and work in prisons should not be forced to face unnecessary risk of death and disease.”

Nine inmates have died and more than 200 others have become infected at the Elkhorn prison since the start of the global pandemic linked to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, according to figures published by the Bureau of Prisons as of Wednesday. In addition to the inmate infections, seven staff members at the prison have tested positive.

The Elkhorn facility has the third-highest rate of infections among inmates according to BOP data.

“People at Elkton are dying. The situation is particularly dire, even compared to other corrections facilities,” David Carey, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU in Ohio, told the Cleveland Scene in April. “We’ve already seen that prisons are tinderboxes for COVID-19 because people are forced to exist in close, shared spaces for eating, sleeping, and bathing. … Further delay will result in further death.”

The Supreme Court agreed, refusing to block a lower court’s judgment that BOP officials immediately start releasing more than 800 medically-vulnerable inmates from the low-security prison.

In a one-page ruling on the matter, the Supreme Court said the Trump administration failed to challenge an order issued by the federal court on May 19. Instead, the Trump administration requested a review of a preliminary injunction issued on April 22.

The May 19 order superseded the April 22 ruling, and since the Trump administration failed to challenge the newer order, the Supreme Court declined to take up the issue.

Even if the Trump administration had challenged both injunctions, only three Supreme Court justices would have granted their request, the order released on Tuesday said. That would have fallen short of the majority needed to overturn the lower court’s decisions.

A decision in the overall case is still pending in federal court, meaning vulnerable inmates will likely have to wait in custody a bit longer.

First Amendment Coalition to host media shield law workship following police raid on San Francisco journalist

The First Amendment Coalition and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter will hold a Zoom workshop on California’s shield law for members of the media on June 2, 2020.

The workshop comes more than one year after San Francisco police officers raided the home and office of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody in connection with the publication of leaked documents related to the death of former San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Carmody received the materials from an anonymous source and distributed them to members of the television news media, many of whom used that material in news reports on Adachi’s death.

Though police had warrants to search Carmody’s home and office, judges tossed the warrants and suppressed information obtained from Carmody’s home, office and personal devices. In their rulings, judges determined officers overstepped their bounds because Carmody was a recognized member of the news media and was protected by California’s journalism shield law, which protects reporters from having to disclose anonymous sources used in the course of news-gathering operations.

California’s journalism shield law — one of the toughest in the country — says reporters, editors, producers and other members of the news media cannot be held in contempt for refusing to disclose sources. It protects members of the commercial and non-commercial news media as well as freelancers, bloggers, writers and other journalists equally.

On June 2, the First Amendment Coalition and the Society of Professional Journalists will hold a joint workshop to discuss that shield law and other laws in California and at the federal level that protect the news-gathering and reporting activities of journalists.

The workshop will be held via Zoom and is free and open to the public. Click or tap here for details.

Note: The information in this post is presented for educational and informational purposes only. The Law Office of Mark Reichel neither warrants nor endorses, and is in no way affiliated with, this event or its organizers.

What will court hearings and trials look like after the coronavirus?

Federal courts are preparing for a slow reopening of courthouses for civil jury trials and other matters after weeks of being closed due to the ongoing health crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Bloomberg Law reports courthouses in some states that have seen lower rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths are easing into new measures that will see measuring tape, disinfectant and extra jurors become the new norm in courtrooms for at least a little while.

Federal courts are re-opening in different parts of the country on a case-by-case basis. In Texas, a federal ivil trial was scheduled to begin in the first week of June, though the case was eventually settled. Other matters are scheduled to be heard before the court in July, according to Bloomberg.

That’s different from other parts of the country, including Connecticut where the federal court system has delayed all jury trials until September.

In California, routine court matters are being heard through phone and videoconferencing, including arraignments and most hearings. Jury trials are still weeks away at the earliest.

In the federal Eastern District of California, courthouses have been closed and jury cases postponed indefinitely, according to a recent order issued by Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller. The order affects six federal courthouses in Northern and Central California located in Sacramento, Modesto, Fresno, Redding, Bakersfield and Yosemite.

The emergency declaration signed by Mueller on May 13 said jurors won’t be called for service in either criminal or civil cases for the foreseeable future.

In the federal Northern District of California, Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton also arranged for routine court matters to be conducted through videoconference. An emergency ordered issued in that district, which includes San Francisco, says no civil or criminal jury trials will take place until September 30, 2020 at the earliest.

A photo of Kelvin Atkinson from his profile.

Former Nevada senator wins compassionate release from prison over coronavirus concerns

A former Nevada state lawmaker who was convicted last year on campaign finance violations has won an early release from federal prison due to the ongoing health crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Kelvin Atkinson, a Nevada Democrat and the state’s former senate majority leader, was charged with misusing nearly $500,000 in campaign funds between 2010 and 2017. He resigned from the legislature in March 2019 and later pled guilty to the charge.

He was sentenced to 27 months in prison and fined nearly $250,000. He began serving his sentence at the federal prison camp in Atwater, California, a minimum-security facility that houses defendants with low-level criminal convictions.

Federal prisons have been a hotbed of viral COVID-19 infections since the outbreak began in late February.

The satellite prison camp is one of the few federal prisons to report no outbreak of COVID-19, according to information released by the Bureau of Prisons. An adjacent high-security penitentiary also has reported no instances of inmates or staff being infected with the virus.

Other federal prisons in California have reported a steady increase in infections since March. A satellite prison camp and adjacent high-security facility in Lompoc have the highest collective number of inmate infections in the entire Bureau of Prisons system, according to information published by the agency.

The Bureau of Prisons says it is maintaining adequate measures to prevent and screen for COVID-19. In a document called “Correcting Myths and Misinformation about BOP and COVID-19,” prison officials say they’ve provided inmates with cloth masks and are segregating those who experience symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

But in a motion filed in late March, Atkinson said staff at the Atwater prison camp didn’t provide him with adequate cleaning materials and weren’t actively taking temperatures of symptomatic inmates.

In a rebuttal to Atkinson’s motion, the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote the former lawmaker had access to cleaning materials and was more than capable of taking care of himself.

Both Atkinson’s health information and the U.S. Attorney’s rebuttal were filed under seal, but they were referenced by a federal judge in public court documents reviewed by the Nevada Independent.

In mid-April, Judge James Mahan ruled in favor of Atkinson, finding that Atkinson suffered from a “severe illness” and that the COVID-19 outbreak put his life at risk.

Mahan ordered Atkinson released within 72 hours of his order. Atkinson was further ordered to spend two weeks in self-isolation, then spend the remainder of his sentence in home detention.

Ninth Circuit says prisoner can proceed with lawsuit against warden, staff over inmate attack

A Nevada state prisoner who was attacked by an inmate after warning prison officials about death threats made against him should be allowed to proceed with his lawsuit against the warden and other staff, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month.

In October 2013, inmate Robert Wilk and another prisoner, Ysaquirle Nunley, were housed together in a unit of Nevada’s High Desert State Prison. That month, Wilk complained to a case manager that Nunley had threatened to kill him.

Prison officials moved Wilk to a protective wing of the prison. A few days later, Wilk says he attended a meeting with his case manager, the prison’s warden and an associate warden to discuss where he would be housed next.

Court documents show Wilk agreed to be moved to another unit because he thought he would be protected from Nunley. But the following February, Nunley attacked Wilk. The inmate suffered from a broken nose and damaged eyes, according to his testimony.

In court proceedings, Wilk’s case manager acknowledged moving both men into adjoining units. The prison acknowledged they keep “enemy” lists between rivaling inmates, but the case manager said a clerical error meant Nunley was not added to Wilk’s “enemy” list.

Wilk sued, arguing the prison violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from Nunley.

A district court initially granted a motion by the prison to dismiss Wilk’s case, but the Ninth Circuit reversed this decision in April, saying a “reasonable fact finder” would conclude that the prison was aware of the threat made against Wilks and failed to respond accordingly.

The appellate judges also found that the prison failed to provide discovery evidence to Wilk, including his institutional record. The judges said Wilk was entitled to that evidence and “should have another opportunity to seek the materials he requested previously, which have the potential to identify or exclude the defendants.”

That material could be crucial as two of the three parties being sued by Wilk — the warden and associate warden — have not acknowledged attending the meeting between Wilk and his case manager as Wilk claims.

The appellate court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

Man wrongly jailed over child porn charges can sue arresting officer, appellate court says

A Kentucky man who was jailed for nearly a year and a half on suspicion of distributing child pornography can proceed with a malicious prosecution claim against his arresting officer, an appellate court affirmed last week.

The case involves David Jones, a Clark County resident who was arrested in December 2013 after detectives executed a search warrant on his home. Police said they suspected Jones used a computer program called Ares to distribute child pornography, noting a detective had obtained evidence from AT&T that linked Jones’ IP address and router to the alleged video.

Jones was indicted by a grand jury on a single count of promoting a sexual performance by a minor under the age of 16. As he sat in jail, police conducted a forensics examination of several computer devices seized during the warrant, including his computer, tablet and cell phone. The examination revealed purported to show Jones installed Ares on his phone, but no evidence of child pornography was present.

Despite the lack of forensic evidence on his phone, Jones remained in custody for more than a year. In late 2014, nearly a year after the search warrant was executed on his home, Jones’ public defender commissioned a forensic examination of their own. That examination also found no evidence of child pornography, and a forensic examiner said he could find no proof that Jones ever installed or used any peer-to-peer software.

One month after the public defender’s forensics report was presented to the court, a judge reduced Jones’ bail. He was released from custody a short time later. By then, he had spent 14 months behind bars.

Prosecutors dropped their case against Jones in April 2015, citing competing examination reports. Jones filed a lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution, accusing prosecutors of withholding exculpatory evidence in his case.

The case went back and forth between the district and appellate court for more than four years before last week’s decision in which a three judge panel sided with Jones, noting that police apparently failed to notify prosecutors about the conflicting forensics report and didn’t fully inform them about a lack of evidence on Jones’ devices.

In the end, it was that lack of evidence that provoked prosecutors to drop their case against Jones. But the appellate court said the first forensics report conducted months earlier should have been enough to release Jones from jail.

At issue is whether officers with the Clark County Sheriff’s Department fully informed prosecutors after the first forensics report came back empty. While police had enough probable cause to arrest Jones in December 2013, the first forensics report eroded much of that probable cause, and Jones should have been set free.

“It could be reasonably inferred that the Commonwealth lacked the evidence it needed to continue its prosecution of Jones once the forensic examination failed to connect Jones’ devices with the video,” the appellate judges wrote. “In fact, the prosecutors admitted that it was the weakness of the [police] forensic report relative to [the defendant’s forensics] report that justified the dismissal of charges.”

But he wasn’t, and the appellate court ruled that prosecutors opened the door for Jones to file his malicious prosecution claim when they testified in an earlier court case that there was a lack of evidence connecting Jones to the video.

The appellate court said there was enough evidence presented by Jones to continue with a malicious prosecution case against the arresting officer, but not against Clark County or its top sheriff. The case was remanded to the district court for a jury trial.

In a separate case, Jones sued Clark County in state court after jail officials sent him a bill for more than $4,000 related to his incarceration. The invoice included a $35 booking fee and a $10 fee for every day spent behind bars.

In that case, Jones argued that he shouldn’t have to pay anything because the charges against him were dropped. But a Kentucky appellate court ruled against him in February, saying state law allows judges to determine on a case-by-case basis if defendants can afford jail fees at the end of their cases.