The Hawaii Supreme Court today moved to change a COVID-19-related ruling it made in August that prevented judges from setting bail and, in some cases, keeping certain alleged criminals in custody.
The court’s order allows District Court judges to set bail for those alleged to have committed “offenses against the person” pending trial. The offenses include misdemeanor assault, terroristic threatening, sexual assault and other violent crimes.
The high court had ordered the requirement, among others, six months ago as a way of helping to alleviate crowded conditions in the criminal justice system and fight the spread of the coronavirus in the jails.
Today’s ruling came in response to a motion filed by the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney following the repeated release of Randy Jacob, who had allegedly gone on a sexual assault spree in Downtown Honolulu beginning in March.
Jacob, 37, is now in the custody of the state Department of Health for a mental fitness evaluation, but he was previously arrested in connection with incidents on March 3, 5, 8, 11 and 13 for allegedly groping women’s breasts and buttocks without their consent.
Each time Jacob had been released because his charge, fourth-degree sexual assault, didn’t allow judges to keep him in custody under the Supreme Court order.
Jacob was arrested on March 16, accused of doing the same thing, but District Judge Steven Hartley ordered that he not be released, calling him “a textbook example of an exception to the Supreme Court order” and describing him as a danger to the public.
Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm offered praise for this morning’s court action.
“Today’s ruling gives District Court Judges the discretion to set bail and, in some cases, hold those who commit violent crimes against our residents in custody,” Alm said in a news release. “This also means that those who need mental health treatment can be committed to the custody of the Department of Health. The bottom line is that our streets will be safer as a result of this order and we thank the Court for its quick action.”
The court issued another order today asking the parties in the matter, including the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney, Office of the Public Defender and the state Attorney General, to prepare briefs about whether all the COVID-19-related custody restrictions should end.
In the order, the court noted that the rate of positive cases in Hawaii’s correctional centers and facilities has stabilized, that testing and other health and safety measures have been implemented within the correctional centers and that the vaccination of inmates is underway.
“It appears … the conditions that necessitated swift action by this court in August 2020 are no longer prevalent,” the court wrote.
Alm said he plans to ask the court to lift all of its custody restrictions in an effort to keep dangerous criminals off the street.
“The robust COVID-19 testing program in Hawaii’s detention facilities and the increased pace of vaccinations of staff and detainees indicate that the risk to our jail and prison populations has significantly decreased since August 2020,” he said.