The Santa Barbara County Public Defender on Monday requested that defendants in all criminal cases contact its office to have attorneys make court appearances for them as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The move was made to encourage social distancing as a measure to stop the community transmission of the coronavirus inside Superior Court locations, according to County Public Defender Tracy Macuga.
The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County came on Sunday after a 60-year-old North County resident with no recent travel and no underlying health condition was tested, according to Dr. Henning Ansorg, a county public health officer.
“Our goal is to assist the Public Health Department in implementing the recommended social distancing measures," Macuga said. "Unfortunately, our courtrooms are often standing room only.
“As always, our primary commitment is to our clients and, right now, ensuring their health and safety is paramount," Macuga said. "In order to slow the transmission of COVID-19, we must reduce foot traffic in and out of our courthouse.”
The request applies to all defendants in pending criminal cases, including for suspects in DUI and domestic violence cases who are normally required to appear for arraignment and sentencing at Superior Court locations.
People charged in felony cases must appear for arraignments but may be excused from future appearances provided the court grants a waiver of appearance, Macuga said.
Those charged with misdemeanors already have the option to have an attorney appear on their behalf.
Deputy public defenders have started reaching out to defendants to arrange for future court appearances, Macuga said.
Individuals who are not represented by an attorney and have an upcoming court hearing on a criminal matter should call one of the three public defender branches: Santa Maria: 805-346-7500; Lompoc, 805-737-7770; and Santa Barbara, 805-568-3470.
Last week, county officials announced measures to limit personnel inside courtrooms to stop the virus' spread, including the use of teleconferencing and video appearances by defendants.
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