Good cause found for speedy trial violations in San Francisco

Estrada v. Superior Court of City and County of San Francisco (Cal. Ct. App., Feb. 28, 2023, No. A166474) 2023 WL 2320352, at *1

 Summary:  Represented by the Office of the San Francisco Public Defender Petitioners sought  a writ of mandate or prohibition requiring respondent Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco to dismiss their cases for violating their speedy trial rights under Penal Code section 1382. Petitioners contend there was no good cause to continue their cases past the statutory deadline, maintaining the superior court can no longer rely on the “exceptional circumstances” resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court of Appeal concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion in finding good cause to continue their trial dates past the statutory deadlines.

COVID-19 Pandemic and Criminal Trial Delays

In Hernandez-Valenzuela (2022) 75 Cal.App.5th 1108, 1117 (Hernandez-Valenzuela), the Court of Appeal  considered whether the COVID-19 pandemic constituted “exceptional circumstances” justifying the superior court’s finding of good cause to continue criminal cases past the statutory deadlines. The court  set forth the background of the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health and judicial response in California.

On March 23, 2020, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, in her capacity as Chairperson of the Judicial Council, issued an emergency statewide order suspending all jury trials and continuing them for a period of 60 days. The Chief Justice also extended by 60 days the time period provided for in section 1382 for holding a criminal trial.

On March 30, 2020, the Chief Justice issued a second statewide emergency order, authorizing superior courts to issue implementation orders that ‘[e]xtend the time period provided in section 1382 of the Penal Code for the holding of a criminal trial by no more than 60 days from the last date on which the statutory deadline otherwise would have expired.’

“On April 29, 2020, the Chief Justice issued a third statewide emergency order, stating: ‘The 60-day continuance of criminal jury trials and the 60-day extension of time in which to conduct a criminal trial under Penal Code section 1382, both of which I first authorized in my order of March 23, 2020, are to be extended an additional 30 days. The total extension of 90 days shall be calculated from the last date on which the trial initially could have been conducted under Penal Code section 1382.’

The San Francisco Superior Court reopened all courtrooms on June 18, 2021.

However, the Chief Justice’s orders regarding extension of time to hold preliminary examinations, waiver of certain requirements to adopt local rules related to the pandemic, and suspension of any California Rule of Court to the extent it prevented a court from using technology to conduct remote proceedings were not rescinded until April 30, 2022. The last of these, including emergency rule 3 regarding remote technology in criminal proceedings and emergency rule 5 regarding criminal appearance waivers were not rescinded until June 30, 2022.

Petitioners contend the trial court abused its discretion in finding good cause existed to continue their trials past the statutory deadlines. Hernandez-Valenzuela, supra, 75 Cal.App.5th 1108 addressed the same arguments of the petitioners—that the inability to get cases to trial is the result of chronic court mismanagement, including unused courtrooms, excessive judicial vacations, and failure to hold trials at the civic center courthouse, and not the result of extraordinary circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hernandez-Valenzuela rejected these arguments, holding the “backlog which has delayed petitioners’ trials was the result of exceptional circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Id. at p. 1134.)

Hernandez-Valenzuela cautioned, however, that “respondent court cannot turn to the pandemic and ‘perpetually cite “exceptional circumstances” to avoid dismissal under section 1382.’ At some future point, should respondent court’s backlog persist while courtrooms remain dark and unused for long stretches of time, a backlog that originated with the pandemic could transform into one that persists or grows due to court administration, or the nonuse of available judicial resources. Here, we only decide that on August 16, September 2, and September 24[,] [2021], that point was not reached, and we decline to adopt any outside time limitation or metric that establishes such a point.” (Hernandez-Valenzuela, supra, 75 Cal.App.5th at p. 1135.)

The Right to Speedy Trial

 The right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right guaranteed by both the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 15 of the California Constitution.  The right to a speedy trial right is “(i) to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration; (ii) to minimize anxiety and concern of the accused; and (iii) to limit the possibility that the defense will be impaired.” [Citation.] “To implement an accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, the Legislature enacted section 1382.” ’ (Burgos v. Superior Court (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 817, 825)

Section 1382 prescribes certain time periods within which an accused must be brought to trial. (§ 1382, subd. (a).) The statute provides that, in a felony case, ‘the court shall dismiss the action when a defendant is not brought to trial within 60 days of his or her arraignment on an indictment or information, unless (1) the defendant enters a general waiver of the 60-day trial requirement, (2) the defendant requests or consents (expressly or impliedly) to the setting of a trial date beyond the 60-day period (in which case the defendant shall be brought to trial on the date set for trial or within 10 days thereafter), or (3) “good cause” is shown.’

The burden of showing good cause is on the prosecution. The trial court has  broad discretion to determine whether good cause exists to grant a continuance of the trial. In reviewing a trial court’s good-cause determination, an appellate court applies an ‘abuse of discretion standard.

Meaning of Good Cause

California appellate decisions cite these factors in determination of good cause: (1) the nature and strength of the justification for the delay, (2) the duration of the delay, and (3) the prejudice to either the defendant or the prosecution that is likely to result from the delay.

In June 2021, the superior court reopened the 11 trial departments in the Hall of Justice that were open before the pandemic—Departments 10, 13, 16, 19, 21, and 24–29. There were around 562 cases waiting to be tried, including about 155 felony cases in which the defendant was in custody.

The backlog that resulted from the court closures and the later disruptions from surges and new variants is not a problem that can reasonably be expected to have dissipated within only months or even a year or two, particularly given the continued filing of new criminal cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse impacts on the superior court did not end when the court reopened. The court had to address not only the backlog that had developed during the closure of the courts, but also the new cases that continued to be filed. The backlog during the time period at issue here was principally the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exceptional circumstances justified continuance of petitioners’ trials past their statutory last days.


The petitions for writs of mandate or prohibition were denied.

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