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Siskiyou searches for venue large enough for jury trials with social distancing

Bill Choy

To maintain social distancing, Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus said the county is seeking alternate locations to hold jury trials that wouldn’t necessitate jurors being in close quarters.

Recently, Siskiyou County judges, defense attorneys and Andrus toured the Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds in Yreka to look at their facilities.

Andrus added that they have also been in contact with schools, churches, and other sizable venues to consider their viability.

“With social distancing guidelines it is very difficult to find a place of sufficient size to conduct a jury trial safely and effectively, let alone do jury selection with all of the potential jurors who would be summoned to appear,” Andrus said. “This process continues as we try to get back to near normal with COVID-19 continuing unabated.”

Jury trials suspended in mid-March in Siskiyou County.

Since April, local courts throughout the state have been allowed to set up remote hearings via teleconference technology and for counsel to appear on behalf of defendants in pretrial proceedings.

Last week, an extension of time periods in which to hold criminal trials in Siskiyou County was extended by 30 days. This is applicable for cases in which the original or previously extended deadline would have expired from June 16 to July 31. This includes the Damion Doyle double homicide trial, which was scheduled for June 29. The trial has already been delayed many times in recent years and then delayed this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrus said.

Doyle is accused of shooting his adopted parents to death in 2016. Andrus said the plan at this time is to return to court on July 1 to select a new trial date.

Normally, the time period that a defendant charged with a felony offense must be taken before a magistrate is normally 48 hours. It has now been extended in Siskiyou County from 48 hours to seven days, for cases in which the deadline would have otherwise expired from June 22 to July 13.

Last week, the Siskiyou County Superior Court called a meeting last week to discuss whether to continue with a “zero bail” structure in Siskiyou County.

On June 10, California judicial leaders ended a statewide policy of imposing $0 bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies that reduced jail populations by more than 20,000 suspects during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s Judicial Council said the policy helped ease crowding in jails, which are potential hot spots for spreading the virus.

But, it said a uniform statewide policy is no longer appropriate as the state’s 58 counties vary widely in how quickly they ease stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing spread of the virus.

Individual counties can keep the $0 bail policy “where necessary to protect the health of the community, the courts, and the incarcerated” after the statewide policy ends June 20, said Justice Marsha Slough, a member of the council.

Andrus said that he strongly urged the Siskiyou County Superior Court to return to the regular bail schedule.

“This would allow us the flexibility that a judge always has to approve the release of an inmate when appropriate while giving us the option of jailing people who are taking advantage of the situation,” Andrus said. “Some have committed numerous crimes thinking that there will be no punishment. We need to be able to abate the situation which some took as a license for lawlessness.”

As of Monday morning, the court had yet to make a decision. Andrus said at the time he excepted a decision as early as later that day or sometime this week.