Marin County Superior Court sets briefing schedule for San Quentin COVID 19  habeas petitions

A Marin County Superior Court judge has ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to respond by August 4, 2020, in an expedited briefing schedule, to petitions requesting immediate release of 21 people at San Quentin State Prison. The petitions were filed by inmates at San Quentin in pro per and by and attorneys representing inmates, including the San Francisco Public Defender.

The petitions address the COVID 19 outbreak at San Quentin that has infected over  2,000 people living and working at San Quentin, resulting in staffing shortages, lockdown, and fear for those incarcerated  and their families. The  COVID-19 infection rate in San Quentin is 63% while California’s infection rate is 1%.

“Incarcerated people at San Quentin are scared to death,” said Marin County Public Defender Jose Varela. “Judge Howard has ordered CDCR to respond. And his seeking quick input from all parties reflects the important human rights issues at the heart of this litigation.”

“Every person unlawfully imprisoned or restrained of his liberty, under any pretense, may prosecute a writ of habeas corpus to inquire into the cause of his or her imprisonment or restraint.” [Penal Code § 1473(a)] The habeas corpus petitions allege a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” The petitions request immediate release from confinement. The cases were consolidated  and will be heard by Superior Court Judge Howard. Attorneys for petitioners include attorney Charles Carbone, the Santa Clara County Alternate Defender, the Marin County Public Defender, the San Francisco Public Defender, and the Alameda County Public Defender. The public defenders are representing clients from their county who are incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison, located in Marin County.

Venue for habeas actions

Because the neither the  California Constitution nor the habeas corpus statutes set territorial limits to habeas corpus jurisdiction, the courts have adopted venue rules in habeas cases.

Petitions challenging a judgment or sentence should be heard in the county in which the trial and sentence took place. Petitions, like these challenging conditions of confinement should be heard in the county where the petitioner is being held. See In re Roberts (2005) 36 Cal.4th 575, 582; Griggs v .Superior Court (1976) 16 Cal.3d 341, 347.

Courts can transfer petitions to the appropriate county.

When a habeas corpus petition challenging the terms of the judgment is filed in superior court, the court has discretion to transfer the petition to the county in which the judgment was rendered; when such a petition challenges conditions of confinement, the court may transfer the petition to the county in which the petitioner is confined. Cal Rules of Ct 4.552(b).

A court, after ascertaining that the petition states a prima facie case for relief, should transfer the matter to the superior court where the proceedings under attack had been litigated as that court is better situated to entertain the attack.  Although there is  no territorial limitation on the power of a superior court to entertain a petition for habeas corpus relief.

As a general rule, if the petitioner has  complied with pertinent rules, the court where the petition is sent, must file the petition and determine whether it states a prima facie case for relief.

If it does not, the petition should be denied. (In re Swain (1949) 34 Cal.2d 300 [209 P.2d 793].) If the petition states a prima facie case for relief, then the court must determine whether it will hear the petition.  If the challenge is to a particular judgment or sentence, the petition should be transferred to the court which rendered judgment if that court is not the one where the petition was filed. If the challenge is to conditions of the inmate’s confinement, then the petition should be transferred to the superior court of the county wherein the inmate is confined if that court is a different court from the court wherein the petition was filed.



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