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Fulton DA asks for citations for non-violent offenders instead of arrests during coronavirus court closures

District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. said in a letter issued earlier this month he was trying to maintain a limit on the jail population while trials are suspended.

ATLANTA — The Fulton County district attorney asked law enforcement officers earlier this month to issue citations in lieu of arrests for non-violent offenders, in order to maintain a limit on the population at Fulton County Jail while courthouses are closed during the coronavirus outbreak.

The jail has already seen 14 positive cases of COVID-19. One inmate was hospitalized and has since been released from jail. Three tested positive on Sunday and six more on Monday. 

Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. made the request in a letter dated March 19. 11Alive investigative reporter Brendan Keefe obtained the letter on Monday.

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In it, Howard lists offenses eligible for citation instead of arrest that include:

  • Non-violent theft crimes less than $5,000 (such as shoplifting)
  • Forgery and fraudulent practices
  • Possession of control substances and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute less than one pound
  • Criminal damage to property

Howard's letter also stipulates that offenders should still be brought to the county jail if they "present any safety or risk of violence concerns to any member of the public"; if they "refuse to accept, sign or receive the citation acknowledging a court date"; in they committed "crimes of violence, seven deadly crimes, crimes against children, crimes against seniors"; and if they committed "crimes involving the Family Violence Act or threats of family violence."

"I am requesting your jurisdiction consider limiting the number of offenders that are arrested and brought to the Fulton County Jail," the letter states. "I am suggesting alternatively, you would utilize citations dated for appearances at the Fulton County Jail three weeks in the future."

The period of three weeks was specified because that was the period of time from the writing of the letter until trials were to resume at courthouses on April 13.

"We must take additional measures to ensure the jail population does not exceed 2,800 inmates," the letter states. That was the population size at the time of the Courthouse Closure Emergency Order issued March 13, it says.

While a number of Fulton County jail inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, Howard does not cite that as a specific concern in his letter.

It is not clear, with President Trump's announcement that social distancing guidelines would be extended until the end of April, if Fulton County would follow suit and keep the courthouses closed that long, as well. It is also not clear if Howard would extend his request in such a situation.

See the letter

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