Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, June 10, 2020


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Pandemic Justifies 90-Day Suspension of Criminal Trials—C.A.

Writ Action Decided on the Basis of Statute, Avoiding Issue of Governor’s and Chief Justice’s Powers


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The First District Court of Appeal yesterday denied writ relief to a man charged with multiple counts of child molestation who claims that Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Gov. Gavin Newsom acted in the absence of legal authority in issuing a series of orders, in reaction to the coronavirus epidemic, that have the effect of delaying his trial by 90 days.

Defendant Rodric Detwon Stanley had waived his speedy trial right up to April 20 which meant, in light of the 10-day grace period in Penal Code §1382, that the prosecution had until April 30 to bring him to trial in Contra Costa Superior Court. But jury trials were suspended by Cantil-Sakauye for 60 days, then for an additional 30 days.

Presiding Justice Stuart Pollak of Div. Four wrote:

“Defendant’s principal argument is that the Governor’s executive order and the Chief Justice’s statewide emergency orders, which effectively continued the statutory last day for defendant’s trial by 90 days, are unauthorized by statute and violate separation of powers principles. Although we question the merit of his contentions,1 this petition may be resolved on a much simpler basis.

“Penal Code section 1382 provides that an action shall be dismissed if trial is not commenced within the statutory time limits ‘unless good cause to the contrary is shown.’ ”

‘Good Cause’ Shown

Good cause has been amply shown, he declared. The presiding justice set forth:

“Health quarantines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases have long been recognized as good cause for continuing a trial date.”

He said the 90-day continuance here “is far longer than the continuances” approved in previous cases, “the COVID-19 pandemic is of such severity as to justify a continuance of this length,” noting:

“Despite state and local shelter-in-place orders throughout the country, including in California and Contra Costa County, according to the Center for Disease Control there have been almost two million cases of COVID-19 in the country and over 110,000 deaths caused by the virus. California itself has seen nearly 130,000 cases and over 4,600 deaths.”

Chief Justice Quoted

He quoted Cantil-Sakauye as saying:

“[C]ourts are clearly places of high risk during this pandemic because they require gatherings of judicial officers, court staff, litigants, attorneys, witnesses, defendants, law enforcement, and juries—well in excess of the numbers allowed for gathering under current executive and health orders.”

Pollak remarked:

“Under these circumstances, the trial court unquestionably was justified in finding that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes good cause to continue defendant’s trial until July 13, 2020, with a statutory deadline of July 29. Given the grave risks to court personnel, jurors, attorneys, and the defendant himself that would be created by proceeding in accordance with the normal timeline, any other conclusion would have been unreasonable in the extreme.”

Constitutional Arguments Rejected

The jurist went to say:

“We reject defendant’s contention that the continuance has violated his constitutional right to access the courts and to due process….Defendant has not been denied access to the courts, as reflected by the very consideration of his speedy trial motion. His trial has only been continued, as necessitated by the current public health crisis. And his due process rights have not been violated due to his prolonged pretrial detention during the pandemic….We note that defendant has not alleged that the conditions of his confinement pose a particular health risk to him that would raise constitutional issues.”

The case is Stanley v. Superior Court, A160151.


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