The Alameda County Superior Court has reversed its controversial decision to move all in-custody felony arraignments to a new courthouse in Dublin, amid criticism that the change denies court access to low-income people of color.
Beginning Sept. 25, in-custody defendants facing felony charges for crimes that occurred in Northern Alameda County will once again have arraignments at Oakland’s Wiley Manuel Courthouse, rather than about 30 miles away at Dublin’s East County Hall of Justice.
The Alameda County Superior Court began moving all in-custody arraignments from Oakland to Dublin in July because of the newly opened East County Hall of Justice’s close proximity to Santa Rita Jail, where the majority of pre-trial detainees are held.
The decision was an attempt by Alameda County Superior Court to cut costs and reduce transportation times for in-custody defendants, according to Alameda County Superior Court Executive Officer Chad Finke. Finke gave a rough estimate that late buses from Santa Rita Jail cost the court about $200,000 each year in overtime costs alone.
But for in-custody defendants from Northern Alameda County, including Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda, the superior court’s decision to move in-custody arraignments to Dublin meant that family members were often unable to attend their court hearings, said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods, in an interview with the Express.
“You’d be in court and you would see maybe one family member in the afternoon,” he said.
Not only did the change impede on family members’ ability to know what was going on with their loved one, Woods added, but it also hurt the accused’s defense, because lawyers often depend on information from relatives to make arguments in court.
Family members who did make it to court, Woods said, often had to pay for child-care costs or miss out on their wages for the day on top of paying for transportation.
And he stressed that low-income people were disproportionately impacted by the change. People who were able to pay bail could have their arraignments in Oakland, whereas those who stayed in custody had to be arraigned in Dublin.
Alameda County Superior Court ultimately agreed to move North Alameda County felony arraignments back to Oakland as a “compromise,” according to Finke. The decision was made after several Alameda County agencies agreed to join the court system in requesting that the Board of Supervisors take steps to start housing North Alameda County detainees at the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland, rather than Santa Rita Jail.
“That’s the way the system is supposed to work,” Finke said. “You should have the place of incarceration as close to the place of arraignment as possible.”