SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – City officials and people who’d been to jail are speaking out, questioning whether San Francisco is honoring its constitutional duty to give people a speedy trial, according to a press release from the public defender’s office.

At Friday’s annual meeting of the Judicial Council, which makes policy for state courts, public defenders, District 9 (Mission-Bernal Heights) Supervisor Hillary Ronen, and community members stated that ongoing trial delays have led to 770 people seeing their constitutionally-mandated trial deadlines passing, including 180 who’ve been in jail beyond the trial deadline, according to the press release.

“While other counties cleared their backlogs, San Francisco’s has grown by more than half since it ‘fully reopened’ back in June 2021,” Public Defender Mano Raju stated in a press release. “San Francisco’s court system has failed its residents badly for months upon months, and has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in our jails.”

Raju joined a group of taxpayers who sued the court last year; part of that suit remains under review from the state appellate court.

“It is shameful and inexcusable that San Francisco stands alone in refusing to honor Constitutional speedy trial rights of hundreds of community members,” Raju stated.

Ronen held a public hearing about the backlog last year.

“How are the San Francisco courts allowing this backlog to continue?” Ronen asked. “I want to learn from many of you, judges, here from other counties, about what has been effective in alleviating these backlogs in your jurisdictions, and I want to offer whatever help I can.”

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteed the right to a speedy trial. There is no set number of days in which a trial has to take place, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Barker v. Wingo (1972) that there are four factors to take into consideration when determining if this right has been violated: the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the time and manner in which the defendant asserted their rights, and the degree of prejudice caused by the delay to the defendant.

KRON ON is streaming live

Stephen Kloster, a public defender client who spent 410 days in jail, was acquitted on felony charges he’d assaulted his doctor. He was found guilty of misdemeanor battery. Kloster could not care for his 87-year-old mother due to his incarceration.

“As an immunocompromised person, I lived in fear that I would get seriously sick or die while I was in jail. It feels like the court isn’t taking its responsibility to hold trials seriously, and they’re playing games with our lives. And it wasn’t just my life,” he said. “While I was trapped in jail without a court date, no one was caring for my 87-year-old mom because I’m her only caretaker. Being in jail for over a year completely interrupted my life and endangered my family. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”