San Francisco Forced to Dismiss Hundreds of Cases Because of Pandemic Delays

AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

As if San Francisco didn't have enough problems with petty crimes, now the city is having to dismiss hundreds of cases which have dragged on for years thanks to the massive backlog created by the pandemic. It's great news for everyone who was charged with a misdemeanor in 2020 or 2021.

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In May 2023, Brenda Carroll was charged with domestic violence and elder abuse for allegedly getting into a drunken scuffle with her boyfriend and a man she was caring for after a day of swilling wine...

On Wednesday, she finally walked into a San Francisco courtroom expecting a trial. Minutes later, she walked back out with a smile on her face, her case dismissed...

Carroll’s case is one of 705 misdemeanor cases that, as of Jan. 2, had languished in court due to a 4-year-old backlog of cases. An unresolved lawsuit filed by the public defender against the court alleged the delays were violating defendants’ constitutional rights.

It sounds like the court and DA Brooke Jenkins have been kicking this can down the road for years, each hoping the other will take some responsibility for the mess. The court just keeps continuing the huge backlog of cases even when they are way past the established deadline and has offered no explanation. Meanwhile, DA Jenkins will only say it's not her job to dismiss the cases, that's a decision for the courts. 

A public defender sued the city over the delays back in 2021 and that case is still being considered by the State Supreme Court. Until a few weeks ago, courts in San Francisco were continuing the cases and reading out a statement saying no decision would be made until the lawsuit over this was settled. But last month the city changed direction and began trying to work through the backlog of cases.

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So what's actually happening is, instead of dealing with this systematically, about a dozen cases a day are being dismissed as the DA admits they aren't prepared to bring them to trial.

 As a line of attorneys stood ready for their cases to be called, the bailiff repeatedly had to hush the chatter in the courtroom, where more than 30 people—many of them defendants—sat waiting. 

Deputy Public Defender Daniel Meyer approached the lectern with his client Emerson Deras-Gonzalez, who was charged with a DUI in 2020. Meyers indicated to Judge Victor Hwang that his client, who had already appeared six times in court, was ready for trial. 

“Are the people ready for trial?” asked Hwang.

In this particular case, the answer was no. The ADA said any decision reached would probably be overturned because of the long delay therefore his office dismissed the case (after blaming the court for the delay). While the authorities are trading blame over this mess, a person who was (potentially) guilty of a DUI got to walk free with no consequences. 

The judge handling the backlog cases refused to dismiss one particular case which involved a sexual battery charge. Instead he continued the case and told the ADA, "I'm gonna give you 10 days to get ready for trial." Good for him I guess, but it sounds like even the people who are convicted are going to have a strong case on appeal thanks to the delay. 

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It's like the entire city of San Francisco has retroactively become an autonomous zone where no laws applied during the pandemic. Hundreds of people whose criminal actions should put them into the system and possibly into jail are just walking out of court with a stupid smile on their face. Guilty as sin; free as a bird.

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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024
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