Santa Clara County Superior Court sued over arrest warrant process
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for the county Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring to review the use of chemical options such as tear gas in county jails. File photo.

    Advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the Santa Clara County Superior Court over a policy they say is unfairly penalizing lower-income individuals.

    The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School filed the complaint against the superior court on July 28. They claim the court’s policy mandating those who turn themselves in for outstanding arrest warrants have to post bail, and if they can’t pay, they end up in jail.

    This is not a common problem around the state since most courts will allow a person with an arrest warrant to appear in court without posting bail, according to Emi Young, a staff attorney with the criminal justice program at the ACLU of Northern California.

    Young also said this has little to do with public safety, and more to do with people’s financial ability to pay bail when turning themselves in. In Santa Clara County Superior Court, bail for a misdemeanor charge can range from $1,000 to $10,000.

    “(We are calling on the court to) end a practice that basically discriminates against people on the basis of their wealth, and treats people with less dignity because of their financial status,” Young told San José Spotlight.

    The complaint was filed on behalf of Nikolaus Jackson O’Neill Rogge, a former Santa Clara County resident who was allegedly forced to spend three days in jail after surrendering himself for an arrest warrant. It was also filed on behalf of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform.

    After a defendant turns themselves in and serves jail time, they will appear in front of a judge who has the discretion to release or divert people from jail on their own recognizance, which means they are responsible for showing up to future court hearings. This happened in the case of O’Neill Rogge. Courts can also release people under supervision.

    Raj Jayadev, founder of community organizing group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said it hurts all residents of Santa Clara County to have people unnecessarily incarcerated because they can’t post bail—since it takes up resources that could otherwise go to social services and other county responsibilities. He said it is also racially disproportionate in the harm it causes.

    “It’s categorically inhumane,” Jayadev told San José Spotlight. “It’s categorically unjust.”

    Representatives for Santa Clara County Superior Court declined to comment.

    In June, the advocacy groups previously served the court, requesting it rescind the rule and grant defendants the ability to appear in court.

    California previously enacted a zero bail policy and citation and release orders near the start of the pandemic to limit the spread of COVID-19 in jails. Zero bail allowed low-level offenders to be released while waiting for their court dates. Citation and release orders also allowed law enforcement to issue citations for nonviolent crimes instead of arrests. The Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled in 2022 to let the policies expire after renewing them multiple times over the prior two years.

    Jayadev said this policy exposes how political officials and leaders in the criminal justice system might say they are against hyper-incarceration, but they still stick with policies that over-incarcerate low-income individuals.

    “We’re going to fight them on it,”Jayadev said. “If it means that we have to beat them in court, then that’s what it will take.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

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