As anyone with a loved one in the Dallas County Jail knows, these are trying times. Recent news reports that the COVID-19 virus (or “Coronavirus”) was detected in five inmates on March 25th are disturbing given the nature of the virus and the Jail’s inability to stop its spread. Most of the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for fighting the spread of the infection – avoiding crowded areas, staying six feet from any other individual, remaining at home, and consistently cleaning your hands – are simply not practical in the jail setting. Even hand sanitizer such as Purell is considered contraband in many jails due to its alcohol content. Many individuals in jail are also already in poorer health due to a lack of consistent healthcare, making them even more susceptible to infection.
The Court System’s Response
For both state and federal cases, this represents a change in circumstances that a Judge can take into consideration when determining if a person is eligible for a bond. Judge Alison Nathan for the Southern District of New York recently recognized in an opinion inmates “may be at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 should an outbreak develop”. See United States v. Stephens, No. 15-CR-95, (S.D.N.Y. March 19, 2020). A knowledgeable and dedicated attorney can fight to help secure release, especially for individuals who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Nationally, the Attorney General of the United States recently asked the Bureau of Prisons to examine releasing some at risk inmates to home confinement to protect their safety. The Supreme Court in Montana even issued a direction to lower state courts acknowledging that “it is only a matter of time” before and outbreak and acknowledging that “due to the confines of the facilities, it will be virtually impossible to contain the spread of the virus”. See Letter from C.J. McGrath, Mont. Sup. Ct. (Mar. 20, 2020).
However, in spite of this news, most local prosecutors in the North Texas area are still insistent on keeping most inmates detained even despite the health risks.
Our Response and Experience
Courts across the nation are addressing this very issue now and will certainly continue to do so as the pandemic continues. Our attorneys have already sought release for clients in the Dallas County Jail and elsewhere based on these circumstances, and have conducted extensive research into the effects of COVID-19 on criminal defendants. Our clients are often among society’s most vulnerable people and that is why we fight so hard to assist them.
For more information, contact the attorneys at Burleson, Pate & Gibson about your case or your loved one’s case.
- Paul T. Lund