John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
Yesterday, out of an abundance of caution, Judge O'Neill continued the order suspending cases with defendants housed at the Fresno jail due to the flu through the end of this week. It is expected that no further suspension will be necessary.
A judge has ordered a week-long suspension of federal criminal proceedings involving inmates in Fresno because of a growing flu outbreak at the Fresno County Jail.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill issued the order late Tuesday afternoon, saying he was doing so "in order to assure the health and safety" of judges, court staff, attorneys and the public.
O'Neill's order noted that one county jail inmate has died of flu complications and another who appeared in federal court last week has now been diagnosed with H1N1 influenza. The Fresno County Sheriff's Office said it has quarantined hundreds of inmates to try to prevent influenza A from spreading.
In light of the report confirming that Fresno County jail needs an overhaul, see Fresno Bee, 3/18/13, it is not surprising that the non-profit Prison Law Office has sued a number of counties, including Fresno, over the overcrowded conditions of confinement at local jails.
The Prison Law Office's lawsuit against Fresno County alleges that its inmates are routinely denied treatment for physical or mental illness or dental problems, and are vulnerable to attacks from other inmates because of the jail's poor design and lack of staffing. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said she could not discuss conditions because of the settlement talks.
Federal authorities are asking for the public's help in finding a suspected marijuana dealer who remains on the loose after escaping custody while undergoing medical treatment at a Central Valley health care facility.
Thanousone Volarat was receiving treatment at Fresno's Community Home Infusion Center last Monday when he was seen getting into a red, newer model Honda sedan that drove away from the facility, U.S. Marshal's Deputy Tim Merrell said Sunday. He was wearing a red jumpsuit.
Volarat was being held in the Fresno County Jail and was escorted to the medical center for his treatments by Fresno County deputies. He walked out the back door of the facility.
After years of seeing jail space lost to budget cuts, Fresno County administrators say they have the money to reopen the last of three shuttered jail floors.
Opening the floor would bring the 3,478-person lockup to within 200 beds of capacity, a huge upgrade from two years ago when just 2,000 beds were in use at the downtown facility.
"We'll be able to hold more people that need to be in jail," said Sheriff Margaret Mims, who has long struggled with too little jail space and now regularly releases dozens of criminals early each day.
County administrators this week earmarked $3 million to reopen 432 beds in January through the end of the fiscal year in June. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve the expenditure Tuesday.
The more than 400 new beds that opened at the Fresno County Jail this month filled up in just 10 days, once again leaving the jail at full capacity and inmates being released early.
The speed at which the extra space was filled is an indication of the uphill battle that public-safety leaders face trying to lock up criminals.
While jail capacity has increased by nearly 50% over the past year to 2,859 slots, inmates continue to be let go early because of a lack of room -- and lack of money to make more room.
Fresno County supervisors have committed to financing another 432 jail beds, likely at the start of next year, but even then law enforcement leaders wonder whether that will be enough to accommodate the criminal load.
Sheriff Margaret Mims continues to look at contracting space at the county jails. County probation officers have begun offering alternatives to jail, such as GPS monitoring.
"We could never lock everybody up," Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner said. "We just don't have the resources, so we have to have other interventions."
Four prisoners are suing the Fresno Jail, claiming dangerous conditions, lack of health care and unusual punishment.
The class action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court. It claims Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims is violating the prisoners' constitutional rights by denying them treatment for life-threatening illnesses, severe mental health symptoms and serious dental problems.
The suit also alleges prisoners are subjected to violence due to preventable defects in the jail's design, operation and staffing.
A federal judge in Sacramento today denied a request by Fresno County's Superior Court judges to revisit a 17-year-old agreement that established rules to prevent overcrowding in the downtown jail.
U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. said the ruling should be tweaked, but it will be done by Fresno County and prisoner-rights advocates -- and without input from the judges.
The judges -- frustrated by thousands of early inmate releases by Sheriff Margaret Mims -- asked the federal court to reopen the case. They said the settlement's use of the term "capacity" was ambiguous.
Thursday's hearing was only to decide if the judges had the right to intervene in the long-settled case. England's answer was "no."
Despite opening a closed floor of the jail, in less than two weeks the Fresno County jail is back near capacity.
"We will probably get overcrowded in three or four days. That means the jail will be releasing those arrested for non violent crimes like car theft early, often that means right after being booked," Rick Hill of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department said.