Santa Clara County temporarily extends $0 bail for low-level offenses, restarts jury trials

SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County Superior Court has temporarily extended bail relief for people arrested on lower-level offenses while reopening for some in-person proceedings that had been scaled back during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes amid a broader loosening of restrictions in businesses and public offices statewide, and a week after California justices voted to end the $0 emergency bail schedule that had been in place since mid-April.

Jury service and trials restarted Monday, with more live services planned to roll out in the coming days.

“Jury service is the cornerstone of our democracy and one of our county and Court’s greatest assets,” said Presiding Judge Deborah A. Ryan in a statement Thursday. “Behind every jury trial are numerous citizens who have given their time and energy to further justice in Santa Clara County.”

The court will take new measures to ensure social distancing as it reopens, a spokesperson added, including having fewer jurors inside at a time and staggering their appearances, changing seating arrangements and upping cleaning measures.

Cash bail, however, will retain the same rules that have applied throughout the pandemic so far — at least for now. When the statewide order expires Saturday, Santa Clara County will continue to apply $0 bail to many of those arrested and in pretrial custody until local judges approve a new bail schedule.

Exceptions include serious and violent felonies, plus a number of other violations like being in contempt of court or injuring someone while driving under the influence.

The $0 bail schedule — which was prompted by the need to lower jail populations and the possible spread of COVID-19 — quickly became a flashpoint for debate over cash bail more broadly. While a chorus of public defenders and reform advocates maintain that cash bail lets wealthier people off while leaving poor people and people of color locked up, law enforcement agencies have argued that the statewide order allowed repeat offenders to walk free.

Although it angered advocates, the justices’ decision to end the statewide schedule was in line with the increasingly local approach to the pandemic, Justice Marsha Slough said at the time.

“The Judicial Council’s action better reflects the current needs of our state, which has different health concerns and restrictions county-to-county based on the threat posed by COVID-19,” Slough said.

On Monday, the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice Criminal Courthouse and the Family Justice Center Courthouse reopened for in-person official business. Misdemeanor hearings and Department of Child Support Services business will restart June 22; the Civil and Traffic Court clerk’s offices will reopen for in-person services June 29.

Court access is restricted to all except those conducting official business.

Staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this report.

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Author: Fiona Kelliher