By: Tyler Schwenke, ESQ.
CORONAVIRUS AND THE JAIL SYSTEM
With the start of 2020, it has been almost impossible to turn on your television or open your computer without seeing a headline about the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In the past few months, society has gone from business as usual to social distancing, self-quarantine, and statewide stay-at-home orders. But as most of us handle these changes from the relative safety of our homes, for many people the option to go home does not exist. For those in jail, awaiting the outcome of their criminal case, there are only so many options to try and avoid catching the virus.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. Following this response, many countries, including the United States started to take steps to reduce the spread of the virus as much as possible. For some states, this included releasing people who were previously being kept in jail for a pending criminal case. Within two weeks, the LA Times and New York Times both wrote articles addressing the conditions that people face when they are held in prison. When in custody, it can be very difficult to follow good hygiene practices like consistently washing one’s hands, using hand sanitizer, or even getting access to consistent showers. In Arizona, a lawsuit has been filed by those in custody regarding unsanitary conditions, specifically black mold, which negatively impacts the health of inmates. On top of these conditions, it can be even harder for someone to get medical attention when in custody. At Maricopa County Jail, there are approximately 2,300 inmates at any given time. In addition to those 2,300 inmates, the booking and release areas of the jail sees approximately 7,700 releases and 1,100 self-surrenders each month. Despite these large numbers, the Maricopa County Jail only has approximately 60 beds designated for medical use.
Under the circumstances of the Coronavirus pandemic, the conditions inside Maricopa County Jail can pose a serious risk to a person’s health and safety. This risk is even greater if the person has respiratory issues. An individual can be born with respiratory issues, or they can develop over time. Respiratory issues can arise through smoking tobacco, exposure to certain construction materials, exposure to mold, or a struggle with drug addiction. Remaining in the custody of Maricopa County Jail could result in health complications, or even death, if someone were to fall ill and be unable to get the necessary healthcare. So how can we help our friends and family that find themselves in jail awaiting the results of their case?
MODIFYING RELEASE CONDITIONS
The Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure allow for an inmate to submit a motion for reexamination of their release conditions. This can be done when there is a change in circumstances or material facts that were not previously presented to the court. One of the biggest changes in circumstances that a person could imagine would be a worldwide pandemic that forces people to keep their distance from one another. The Arizona and United States Constitutions require that a person be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because of this, the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure states that “any defendant charged with an offense bailable must be released…” while their case is ongoing. There are some situations where a person is not required to be released. Examples of this would be if the person poses a risk to a witness or alleged victim, or if there is a reason to believe that the person will flee from the state. Even with these exceptions though, the Court must still balance the rights of the accused versus protection of the community. With a global pandemic occurring, the rights of an inmate are not the only thing on the line, but also their life and the lives of those around them.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT RELEASE CONDITIONS
There are many different factors that a judge must consider when determining the release conditions. These conditions include:
- The nature and circumstances of the crime
- The evidence collected in the case
- Whether there is a victim in the case
- The views of the victim, if there is one
- Prior criminal record
- Whether the person resides in the state and for how long they have been there
- Family ties and support
- In and out-of-state relationships
- Employment status
- Financial resources
- Mental/Physical health
- Whether the person is a flight risk
DIFFERENT TYPES OF RELEASE CONDITIONS
After looking at all the factors, the judge must decide what release conditions are appropriate. There are four different categories of release in Arizona:
- Own Recognizance – This means that the individual is released back into the public with no restriction or conditions other than to appear at their next court date. The individual is entirely responsible for making sure they are present at the next court date.
- Bond – A bond is an amount of money that must be provided to ensure the court that the individual will appear at their next court date. If the person does not appear for their court date, then the money will be lost and kept by the court. If the person does appear for all their court dates, then the money will be returned at the end of the case, regardless of result, to whoever posted the bond. While a bond can be paid entirely by the accused or their family, this can be very difficult for many people, especially for really high bond amounts. If an individual cannot supply the full bond, they can pay a bond company a percentage of the bond and provide collateral; in exchange, the bond company will post the full value of the bond.
- Release to a Third Party – This will often occur when the accused is a minor. In this instance, the accused will be release to another person, such as a family member or guardian, who will be responsible for making sure they appear in court.
- Release to Pre-Trial Services – Pre-trial Services is an agency that works with the courts to ensure that people will appear in court. When released to Pre-trial Services, a risk assessment will be performed, and Pre-Trial Services will make a recommendation to the court regarding release conditions. Being released to Pre-trial Services can often result in supervised release. During supervised release, an individual may be required to participate in drug/alcohol screening, regular check-ins, and electronic monitoring.
GETTING HELP TO MODIFY RELEASE CONDITIONS
With the effects of Coronavirus in full swing, now is the perfect time to call upon the courts to reexamine the release conditions of a friend or family member. An attorney can help you with filing the Motion to Modify Release Conditions to get your loved one out of custody and back at home. At Doran Justice, we have two dedicated criminal defense attorneys who are ready to help. Check out our website and call our office at 602-675-5408 to set an appointment for a free consultation.
*This information is correct and up to date as of the day this article was written.