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SF Public Defender’s Office staff protest court backlogs

The Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. in San Francisco.
Thomas Hawk
Flickr / Creative Commons
The Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. in San Francisco.

The number of people with pending criminal cases that have been waiting more than two months for a trial date has nearly tripled since 2021, according to a new report from Mission Local. A deputy public defender who analyzed the Superior Court’s trial backlog found that judges’ vacations were to blame.

Covid-19 is a factor as well. Before the pandemic, cases against defendants not brought to trial within 60 days of their arrest were automatically dismissed. But in 2020, the Judicial Council changed that, and while many other Covid-era accommodations have disappeared, the delay on trials has remained.

To protest the backlog, staff from the Office of the Public Defender began a weekly sit-in at the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street about a month ago. Advocates have joined the sit-ins and called on the District Attorney’s office to dismiss cases.

Mission Local talked to a Treasure Island man who was booked on a misdemeanor last February and has still not received a trial date. He has been summoned to court every few months since he was charged, but each time he has just received another appearance date — never a trial.

SF Public Defender Mano Raju said these delays give prosecutors leverage over defendants, who are more likely to plead guilty just to get out of limbo.

Max Harrison-Caldwell is a summer intern at KALW and a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where he is studying audio reporting and photojournalism. Before going back to school, he covered streets and public space for The Frisc. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Thrasher Magazine.