Public Defenders are playing an important role in the Corona virus crisis.
In New York Brooklyn Defender Services is pressing hard to reduce the population of the City's notorious Rikers Island jail. They are also fighting on behalf of detained immigrant clients. BDS has announced that federal judge Analisa Torres (SDNY) has found that ICE is holding immigrant detainees in unsafe conditions in New Jersey and has ordered the immediate release of ten inmates.
In response to an emergency petition New Jersey Public Defender Joseph Krakora the state's Supreme Court has announced its issuance of a consent order late Sunday night that will suspend or commute county jail sentences for at least 700 low-risk inmates in light of the public health emergency caused by coronavirus COVID-19.
The order commutes or suspends county jail sentences currently being served by county jail inmates either as a condition of probation for an indictable offense or because of a municipal court conviction. It directs their release no later than 6 a.m. Tuesday.
The state's Supreme Court on Friday relaxed the rules of the court to accept a petition from the Office of the Public Defender in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in county jails. The court then ordered mediation, overseen by retired Presiding Appellate Judge Philip S. Carchman, between the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Public Defender, the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey and the ACLU-NJ.
Under the order, other inmates serving a county jail sentence will be released by no later than noon Thursday, March 26. The Attorney General and county prosecutors may file an objection to any release they deem inappropriate. In those cases, judges or special masters will hold a hearing to determine if the release would pose a significant risk to the safety of the inmate or the public. The order would impact only those in jail for third- or fourth-degree crimes or disorderly persons offenses. It does not affect state prison sentences. At the conclusion of the public health emergency, those released from jail will appear before the court to determine whether their custodial sentences should be reinstated or commuted.
No contact orders, drivers’ license suspensions and other conditions will remain in force.