Riverside County’s district attorney’s office and court have been in a protracted argument over mass case dismissals since October.
The DA’s office continued their campaign Jan. 31, with their seventh press release that accused Riverside Superior Court of deciding to dismiss serious criminal cases. This time, judges were unable to hear cases because they were undergoing required training.
“The courts being aware of this shortage of courtrooms should be able to anticipate the needs of public safety and reschedule their trainings until the courts are fully operational,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said, according to the release.
AT A GLANCE
- The court argues the delays were a consequence of the state underfunding Riverside County. A lack of resources is not considered cause for continuance under California law.
- The DA’s office argues the delays were caused by the pandemic, which makes them eligible for continuances under California law.
Riverside Superior Court responded to the DA’s Office Feb. 2 in its own release that reiterated the blame lies in the perpetual lack of state resources for the Inland court, and a shortage of judges unequaled in the state. The court says that judges do not have a choice, and that they must dismiss the cases under California law.
“Prior rulings by the California Supreme Court have made clear that chronic neglect by the state in providing adequate judicial resources does not constitute good cause to continue a case,” the court said. The court also said that they are ethically prevented from commenting on individual cases.
The DA’s Office has appealed some of the dismissed cases.
Both sides agree that mass criminal case dismissals have happened since October. By the District Attorney’s count, the number has reached 1,500 cases. Some of them are misdemeanors, and not all are violent.
Criminal cases are required to be dismissed 90 days after the indictment is filed, according to California’s Speedy Trial Law. This 90-day limit can be extended if the judge finds what is known as good cause to continue the trial.
Riverside Superior Court does not not have enough available courtrooms or judges to try all of their criminal cases before the cases’ speedy trial limit runs out. Often, the case that is eventually dismissed is delayed on the day it is supposed to go to trial because the criminal courtrooms are dedicated to other cases, according to the DA’s Office.
Pandemic or resources?
The main legal question between the DA’s Office and the court is what caused the backlog.
If the backlog is due to the pandemic, because no cases were tried during the pandemic, judges can find good cause to continue, according to legal precedent established in the last couple of years. The DA’s Office argued in legal briefs that the backlog was mostly due to the pandemic.
If the backlog is due to Riverside Superior Court’s lack of resources and judges, there is no good cause to continue. This is what the court argues. A 2010 California Supreme Court case set this precedent.
Riverside Superior Court had a backlog of cases then as well. Then-Riverside District Attorney Rod Pacheco had appealed the dismissal of a case due to the speedy trial law. The California Supreme Court ruled that the constant delays in Riverside Superior Court did not constitute good cause to continue, and decided that the case was to remain dismissed.
The DA’s Jan. 31 statement mentioned three specific cases.
In one of them, People v. Norman Garcia (RIF2101260), which was dismissed Jan. 26, the DA’s office argued that the lack of available courtrooms was due to judicial training. Several courtrooms were closed, and other judges were out sick, the DA’s Office said.
In their response, the court said that new judges are required to undergo training by California Rules of Court.
Garcia was charged with eight counts of pedophilia. The DA’s Office said there were two victims. Proceedings against him began in 2021. The online case portal tied Garcia to Jurupa Unified School District. Transparent California shows that a Norman Garcia was employed as a teacher at Jurupa Valley Elementary School in 2014 and 2015.
The DA’s Office also mentioned People v. Daniel Cintron (RIF2002317) and People v. Angel Salas (RIF2002269). Their cases were dismissed Jan. 30. They each were charged with one count of pedophilia.
The office also released statements about the case dismissals Dec. 19, Dec. 14, Nov. 14, Nov. 7, Oct. 31 and Oct. 24.
Riverside Superior Court responded to the DA’s statement Feb. 2. Their statement said that the court has 22 judges short of the 117 the Judicial Council says they need, and reiterated their earlier statements that a dismissal was due to long-standing resource issues.
The court also said that it has worked hard to combat the backlog by designating additional courtrooms to hear criminal trials, dedicating four of the court’s new judges to criminal cases, prioritizing court reporter assignments to criminal departments and using temporary judges to hear criminal trials. Two more criminal courtrooms will open after the appointment of new judges Jan. 31, the court’s statement says.
The court has one open judicial position left after multiple appointments, the statement says. Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside) is working on a bill that would authorize five more judges to work in Riverside, the court said.
The DA’s Office is appealing some of the convictions. The office shared their template appeal with Follow Our Courts. The office filed both an appeal and a writ of mandate for one of the earlier dismissed cases, People v. Jose Tapia (BLF2100023), in October. It has two appellate numbers (E080079/E080076). The petition for writ of mandate has been fully briefed, and is about to be assigned. The DA’s office’s opening brief for their appeal in the case is due March 6.