COVID at jail clogging court system in Fresno County

The delta wave of COVID has emptied Fresno County courtrooms all over again.
FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A small, new COVID outbreak at the Fresno County Jail has the potential to cause a big disruption in the criminal justice system.

The delta wave of COVID has emptied Fresno County courtrooms all over again.

"I've been doing this for 40 years," said defense attorney Nick Reyes. "Haven't seen anything like this. We may be in the second pandemic, but we go to court, clients are locked up. Clients' rights are being trampled."

Reyes said it's becoming hard to get his clients into court by the time constitutional rights kick in.

"In the federal system, once they're taken into custody they should be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours," Reyes said. "It's not happening. In the state system, it's usually 48 hours or a determination of probable cause. It's not happening."

One of the top reasons defendants aren't getting to court is COVID at the Fresno County jail.

On Friday, the sheriff's office confirmed 27 cases among inmates.

Dozens more are in quarantine, unable to leave the jail because of possible exposure.

It's nowhere near as bad as the situation there in June of last year.

An outbreak then - detected only after the jail sent inmates to the state prison system - ended with more than 500 inmates testing positive and more than 1,200 in quarantine.

New restrictions as of June 2021 require jail visitors to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours, and everyone has to wear a mask.

In the state court system, Zoom has helped judges get through cases with defendants who are out of custody, but there's no access inside the jail.

An Action News analysis this spring showed a COVID-caused backlog of about 4,000 cases.

Months of delays frustrate people waiting for trials - including Lisa Kauls, whose son was murdered more than three years ago.

"It's unsettling to me because I want to have this somewhat resolved," she said. "I want my son to get the justice he deserves. And by them prolonging this, it's very difficult."

COVID outside of the jail is also clogging the system.

RELATED: Pandemic-related court backlog delays justice, potentially endangering community

The trial for the man accused of killing Kauls' son was delayed two weeks when the virus killed the prosecutor's unvaccinated brother.

She's vaccinated and ready for trial to start this week, provided the defendant isn't in quarantine.

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