The Santa Clara County Superior Court has granted amnesty to 1,600 individuals who were ordered to serve their sentences through the sheriff's Weekend Work Program, the court announced on Wednesday.
Criminal Supervising Judge Eric Geffon granted the amnesty on Jan. 13 to defendants who were convicted or pleaded no contest to mostly misdemeanor crimes. The amnesty covers the time period between March 17, 2020, and May 1, 2021, according to a statement issued by the court.
The sheriff's work program allows defendants sentenced to county jail to perform community service in lieu of incarceration. The work program was shut down temporarily after the county health officer's March 16, 2020, "shelter in place" order, which required residents to remain in their homes except when engaging in permitted activities. Due to the public health crisis, the defendants weren't able to start or complete their sentences.
Inmates and jail employees were at particular risk for COVID-19 due to confinement. Dr. Alexander Chyorny, medical director of the adult custody health division at Santa Clara Valley Health System, and county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody advised the criminal justice system that reducing jail populations was critical to limiting the viral outbreak among staff and inmates. The county also sought to limit congregate gatherings in the reentry center as part of the sheriff work program, according to the court order.
The court granted Sheriff Laurie Smith the power to give credit to people who were in or assigned to the program prior to March 17, 2020, through the time the program wasn't in operation. While she did grant credit to participants who were already in the program, she didn't grant credit to those who were pre-booked or who had surrender dates during the program's closure.
"As such, many of the persons that the Court determined suitable to participate in the Sheriff's Work Program, but who could not do so while the program was not operating, did not receive credit, and as a result, have outstanding jail sentences," Geffon noted in his order.
According to the order, effective immediately, sentences will be deemed served or completed for anyone who falls within the March 17, 2020, through May 1, 2021, dates and who meets the following criteria: those who were scheduled to pre-book or surrender to the custody of the sheriff's office with a recommendation for the work program; and anyone already in the process of completing their work-program sentence between the affected dates but who couldn't complete their sentence because the program was not operating. The individuals who were already in the program were granted credit by the sheriff based on a separate court order, according to the announcement.
The court also withdrew bench warrants based on a failure to pre-book or surrender to the work program or for failing to complete the work program because of the program's closure.
The order doesn't apply to anyone sentenced to serve time in county jail and ordered to surrender directly to the county jail between March 17, 2020, and May 1, 2021, the court noted.
"The Superior Court greatly appreciates the collaborative efforts of the District Attorney's Office, the Office of the Public Defender, Independent Defender's Office, County Counsel, and the Department of Pretrial Services for their agreement on this issue and their assistance to make this possible," Geffon said in the court announcement.