There has been many promises made by the city of San Francisco to come up with an effective solution to the overwhelming number of inebriates who can be seen passed out on the street. What typically happens is these individuals are picked up by a San Francisco police officer and taken to a hospital.
Once they are medically cleared, the officer issues them a citation for public drunkenness, explains the charge, informs the individual that he/she is required to appear in court on a certain date, and asks that person to sign the citation.
The problem with that scenario is that there have been no consequences for the individual when he/she chose to throw the citation away and ignore the court date. Initially, the District Attorney’s Office initially decided to track individuals with 20 or more “failure to appear” citations in the past two years, but the list exceeded 100 individuals.
The district attorney, police, sheriff’s department and courts agreed that they needed to come up with a more efficient means, so as of two months ago, the search was narrowed to focusing on the seven worst offenders. It was determined that each had at least 20 or more “failure to appear” citations which constituted contempt of court.
According to Bevan Dufty, the mayor’s homeless point person, “The results were awesome. Police picked up the offenders early on a Wednesday morning, before they were so intoxicated that they needed medical attention. They were in jail for two days. Friday they appeared before Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong, who had some bad news for them: They were subject to as many as five days in jail for every missed appearance.”
The next step was key to making this new process a success. Defendants had a choice of serving jail time or going into a monitored addiction treatment program. If they missed an appointment they would be forced to go back to court.
But apparently Public Defender Jeff Adachi could put a halt to it all. Adachi found one of the two defendants who decided to take the jail time, and he argues that immediately putting the defendant before a judge instead of a jury violates due process and that asking someone to sign a citation is not the same as a court order.
It is agreed by all that the key issue is the ability to hold an arrestee long enough so that he can sober up and make a court date, and as San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said, “We are just talking about a hold to get the bottle out of their mouth or the needle out of their arm for a while.”
“The second-leading cause of death on the street is exposure,” Suhr said. “Winter is coming. We can’t continue to do nothing.”