Douglas County district attorney: 14 inmates released from jail amid COVID-19; some community service hours waived in diversion cases
photo by: Mike Yoder
Updated at 5:24 p.m. Tuesday:
As most court hearings are delayed indefinitely and the public is encouraged to shelter at home, 14 inmates had been released from the Douglas County Jail as of Monday afternoon, District Attorney Charles Branson said.
Only the Douglas County District Court has the authority to release a suspect from jail, according to a news release from Branson’s office; however, Branson has suggested that defendants who are serving a jail sentence only or who are being held on misdemeanor or nonperson felony cases and are not subject to other holds be considered for emergency motions to release from jail.
The action is spurred by concerns about the pandemic coronavirus disease, COVID-19, which continues to spread around the globe. Statistics provided Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment showed 900 confirmed cases statewide, with 27 deaths. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health on Tuesday reported 38 confirmed cases in the county and no known deaths.
“It’s been in cooperation with both our staff and defense attorneys, identifying people that we think fit the criteria to be released given this unusual circumstance we have,” Branson said Monday, “and we’ve been working with those defense attorneys and then getting motions off to the judge.”
Branson’s office expects the number of individuals released to grow as defendants’ attorneys file additional motions and the court rules on them, according to the release.
Asked whom his office definitely wants to keep in jail right now, Branson said anyone who presents any type of risk to public safety, cases in which the punishment is presumptive imprisonment and cases in which the defendant has repeatedly failed to appear in court for hearings.
In cases of inmates who are serving sentences at the jail, Branson said it would be considered on a case-by-case basis whether the inmate needs to return to the jail at a later time to finish the remainder of his or her sentence. He said some cases have been converted to house arrest.
An administrative order from the district court has also granted the Douglas County sheriff the authority to release some inmates for 14-day furloughs to self-quarantine if they become symptomatic or are at increased risk for COVID-19. As of Tuesday, two total inmates had been released on furlough since the administrative order was issued on March 12, according to the sheriff’s office.
There were 137 inmates in jail custody as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to the sheriff’s office’s online records.
For those involved in diversion agreements, the DA’s office is waiving community service hours due starting Feb. 21 — 30 days before the start of the local stay-at-home order went into effect — until 90 days after all stay-at-home orders have expired or have been rescinded, according to the release.
A diversion agreement with the DA’s office can allow defendants, generally first-time offenders in lower-severity cases, to complete a program to avoid prosecution for their charges.
Branson said Monday that “given the extreme unusual nature of what we are facing publicly,” the community service hours will be waived completely rather than postponed to come due at a later date.
However, the release notes that requirements such as counseling, substance abuse treatment, DUI victim impact panels, batterer’s intervention programs and payment of costs will not be waived, but the office will consider time extensions on a case-by-case basis to complete programs or pay costs.
“We realize that people are being furloughed from their work and missing work,” Branson said. “We’ve realized that there’s financial obligations that go along with that, and we will certainly not revoke somebody during this time because they haven’t made the required restitution payments or court payments associated with their case.”
Questions about diversion agreements can be emailed to email@example.com, according to the release.
Other notes: Traffic court, office closure
As the Journal-World has reported, most nonemergency court hearings have been canceled indefinitely under an order from the Kansas Supreme Court. That includes traffic court hearings.
All traffic court cases set for Friday morning appearances prior to June 1 will be rescheduled, and notices of new hearings will be sent by mail, according to the DA’s news release. For questions, contact the Pro Tem division via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-330-2817.
The DA’s office previously announced that it would be temporarily closed to the public through April 3; Branson said Monday that the office would follow the state Supreme Court’s order imposing statewide restrictions on court operations until further notice. However, essential staff members are still working.
“It’s just an unprecedented time for all of us to be working through this,” Branson said. “We’re trying to maintain contact with our victims and witnesses so they know what’s going on in the cases that are important to them, and then trying to make sure that we’re meeting public safety during this troubled time.”
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Contact Mackenzie Clark
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