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State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

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Katherine Fernandez Rundle: Public safety response in the wake of COVID-19

I will always have your safety and well-being at the forefront of every decision we make.

As Miami-Dade State Attorney, the safety and security of all Miami-Dade County residents, including victims and those charged with crimes, is my highest priority.

The State Attorney’s Office is working 24/7 to transition to all-digital operations, hold court hearings and other prosecution duties online, secure the release of nonviolent offenders from jail in a safe way and to protect you and your families while working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our country.

After an unprecedented challenge, our State Attorney’s Office has successfully transitioned to “mission-critical” status effective March 15. We continue to protect victims, respect the rights of defendants, hold court hearings, interview victims to gather facts, file new cases and work with our colleagues in the Public Defender’s Office and the law enforcement community to do our important work.

We are taking advantage of modern technologies; for example, we now have video kiosks in our State Attorney intake office and in the Juvenile Assessment Center so that we can conduct witness interviews with less trauma in cases involving juveniles.

As State Attorney, I have worked closely with our judges and courts to reduce the number of hearings and to allow participants to appear by video. This is imperative to protect the rights of victims and defendants.

The State Attorney’s Office provided our technical expertise plus 135 cameras, which has allowed our judges to operate virtual courtrooms. As a result, all parties — those in and out of jail and those quarantined or at work — to be involved in their cases and to protect the right to a fair trial.

The State Attorney’s Office is working closely with law enforcement and defense lawyers to decrease the jail population and protect staff and inmates without threatening public safety. We will release as many nonviolent offenders as the law and common sense allows.

First, we have encouraged our partners in law enforcement to use alternatives to arrest, such as warnings, civil citations and promises to appear.

Second, we have led the effort with Miami-Dade’s Public Defender, Carlos Martinez and the courts, to release nonviolent offenders from county jails while being very cautious about calls to release violent repeat offenders or persons charged but who cannot be released under state law. The State Attorney’s Office has reviewed each case individually and reached out to jails, victims and courts, before recommending release. This is fair and safe.

As reported in the Miami Herald, as of Friday the population of Miami-Dade jails is down 15% from pre-coronavirus levels. This helps defendants, prison officers and staff and reduces the spread of the virus in the jail population, saving lives and health resources.

As State Attorney, I have compassion for inmates and compassion for their alleged victims and will always protect and balance the rights of all the people we serve.

We remain committed to ensuring the safety of employees, their families, law enforcement and the public at large, as well as those accused of crimes.

We will continue assessing the community and justice system’s needs and adjust our policies and procedures as appropriate; always putting public safety as the guiding principle.

I will always have your safety and well-being at the forefront of every decision we make.

This is a difficult time for all of us, but if we work together, we will get through this as we have done in past crises. Let’s all practice social distancing and good hygiene, take care of each other, use technology to reach out to loved ones, and stay safe together.

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Katherine Fernandez Rundle serves the 11th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses all Miami-Dade County, as its state attorney. A champion for public safety and compassionate criminal justice reforms, Fernandez Rundle is leading the effort to maintain a strong judicial system while addressing the global public health crisis of COVID-19 with social distancing measures.

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