Senator Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) has introduced SB 453 to address the mass court dismissals of backlogged criminal cases.
Existing law guarantees criminal defendants’ right to a fair and speedy trial, and therefore certain deadlines need to be met in order for a criminal case to move forward, or it may be dismissed. While current California law allows extensions to be made in criminal cases where there is “good cause,” it does not define what “good cause” actually means.
Unfortunately, this legal ambiguity has led to the release of defendants charged with violent and dangerous crimes. In Riverside County alone, over 1,000 criminal matters were dismissed in a 10-week period in late 2022, including charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, sex crimes, DUIs, child abuse, and domestic violence.
SB 453 would clarify that the term “good cause” may extend to instances of insufficient courtroom and/or staff availability, a problem that has long plagued the state.
“The courts have faced an immense uphill battle since the pandemic hit, which, combined with the shortage of presiding judges, has resulted in thousands of cases being dismissed and criminals let back into our communities,” said Senator Seyarto. “This is dangerous and unacceptable. By clarifying the definition of ‘good cause,’ we ensure public safety and accountability, and give victims their chance for justice.”
“We have experienced thousands of case dismissals in Riverside County due to a backlog of cases from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. “SB 453 will assist our prosecution efforts by extending statutory due dates for criminal proceedings when needed for good cause, without infringing on constitutional speedy trial rights. SB 453 would be a valuable law for public safety, as it furthers the goal of our state constitution to resolve cases on their merits and would help ensure that victims receive justice in court for the crimes committed against them.”
As an additional call to action, the Inland Empire Republican Caucus has extended an invitation to Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero to visit the region and witness how the Inland Empire counties are impacted by the lack of fully staffed courts. Riverside and San Bernardino counties currently need 52 judges, which is over half of the statewide gap of 98, according to the 2022 Judicial Needs Assessment by the Judicial Council.