With the COVID-19 Coronavirus causing a slowdown in the criminal justice process, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson immediately began looking for a solution to ensure that criminal cases are heard.
DA Anderson wanted to limit the vectoring of COVID-19 in the courtrooms, and provide a safe environment for not only district attorney personnel, victims, and witnesses, but for the defendants and their attorneys as well. Additionally, the safety of court personnel, law enforcement, and the judges was paramount.
The question, “How do we maintain social distancing, the transportation of defendants, appearances, and conversations while upholding the constitutional rights of all involved?” needed to be answered. The Judicial Council of California and the Chief Justice has called for counties to create solutions to this question.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Fermin spearheaded the project here in San Bernardino County. A team consisting of county employees from the technology, law enforcement, and district attorney’s office was assembled to begin working on a solution. That solution was the capability to hold pre-preliminary hearings via a video conferencing platform.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Fermin uses an iPad in a courtroom to test video and audio with the IT staff.
After extensive development and testing, the ability to hold court via video between the jails and courtrooms is now enabled.
Rather than transporting defendants on a jail bus close to other inmates and sheriff’s deputies, they are escorted to a room, where they attend their court hearings via video. All parties to the court hearing, such as the defense and prosecuting attorneys, and the judge, are on video as well.
Recognizing the critical importance and immediate necessity for this solution to be devised, developed, and deployed, District Attorney Anderson received overwhelming support, cooperation, and approval from the sheriff’s department, the board of supervisors, public defender, and the Presiding Judge of San Bernardino County.
“It is of the highest importance that the people of San Bernardino County have confidence knowing that their judicial system continues to safeguard the rights of all parties to a case. Due process and public safety are bedrock fundamentals that can never be sacrificed,” said Anderson.