Judge Carol Brosnahan, a well respected Alameda Superior Court judge, just issued a decision of which we can all be proud.
Electronic home monitoring can mean the difference between a person keeping his job or losing his job, keeping his home or losing his home, raising his kids or watching them be taken by CPS. For these reasons – and a host of others, including the burgeoning costs of county jails – judges sometimes sentence defendants to electronic home monitoring in appropriate cases.
But in Alameda County many judges take the position that electronic home supervision is available as a condition of probation, but is not a substitute for county jail. In other words, when the penal code prescribes a mandatory-minimum in the county jail a judge does not have discretion to order house arrest instead. The basis for this interpretation is that although the California legislature encourages counties to explore house arrest and other alternatives to jail, a predicate for a house arrest program is that the county have in place a contract with the house arrest services provider. Because Alameda County has no such contract, judges in Alameda lack the power – the logic goes – to offer offenders the alternative of house arrest to serve their mandatory minimums.
Last week, Judge Brosnahan issued a decision that empowers judges to sentence defendants based upon the equities of the individual case, and to quit making the excuse that because the County has abjectly neglected to enter a service contract judges hands are tied.
Brosnahan noted that LCA (short for “Leaders in Community Alternatives”) is a reputable company that has earned community confidence. Judges in Alameda County often use LCA to provide house arrest in cases where there is no mandatory minimum, and LCA has entered contracts with other counties. In the case before her the defendant was sentenced to a third DUI, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 120 days in the county jail. Judge Brosnahan reasoned that because defendants who are convicted of the same offense in other counties have the opportunity for electronic home monitoring, defendants in Alameda County would be denied ‘equal protection of the law’ if judges categorically rejected home detention merely because Alameda County has stubbornly refused to enter into a global service contract. The judge sentenced the defendant, who was employed and a single father, to electronic monitoring rather than county jail.
This decision should embolden more Alameda County judges to impose thoughtful alternatives to incarceration.