Last week, the Courts invalidated a program in San Francisco that would have forced chronically homeless and chronically drunk City residents into treatment for as much as 150 days. That policy ran afoul at the Public Defender’s office that asked that the courts review it.
By design, the program would have asked judges to issue civil bench warrants for the arrest of individuals who failed to appear in criminal court for charges of public drunkenness. The courts already had the authority to issue criminal bench warrants for failure to appear, but the civil warrants would have allowed offenders to be diverted from the court system and into treatment. That, in the opinion of the court, was a violation of habeas corpus.
The program was designed in collaboration with the court system, the public health department, and city police – all of whom face budgetary impacts related to the group of repeat offenders. The individual at the center of the court appeal, Warren Morris, had 22 violations for public intoxication.
For each of the infractions, Morris was given and signed a citation that ordered his appearance at a criminal court at a specified time and date. His failure to do so constituted a misdemeanor under state law. When the District Attorney’s office notified the Court that it would not be pursuing charges, the issue should have been moot.
Morris was instead ordered to appear and show cause that he should not be found guilty of civil contempt. A full hearing on the matter would have taken three weeks to schedule, so Morris pled guilty. He was sentenced to 110 days with a 6-month suspension to his sentence if he participated in the Health Department’s treatment program.
The court found that the County and City of San Francisco had no authority to hold Morris without trial for the three weeks, found the program invalid, and ordered no further actions be taken by the Superior court in relation to the program.
There are no plans to appeal the decision.