San Francisco DA still trying to put chronic inebriates into treatment instead of jail 

click to enlarge George Gascón - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • s.f. examiner file photo
  • George Gascón

Three months after a program targeting San Francisco’s worst drunks was deemed illegal, the District Attorney’s Office is still trying to address the troublesome population.

In January, Mayor Ed Lee’s then-four-month-old program known as “chronic inebriate court” was stopped due to a California appeals court ruling. The program had held chronic offenders in contempt of court for ignoring “notice to appear” citations for infractions such as public drunkenness. That meant they could be sentenced to a jail-based treatment program without a costly jury trial.

The program was disbanded after the 1st U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that a “notice to appear” is not an official court order and thus not grounds for contempt. However, that apparently hasn’t stopped District Attorney George Gascón from trying to get chronic offenders such as inebriates — some of whom cost The City millions of dollars in emergency services — off the streets.

Last week, prosecutors said, known Haight Street transient Arthur Balderson, 65, was cited for possession of an open alcoholic beverage. Noticing his past record, prosecutors decided to file misdemeanor failure-to-appear charges in connection with 22 past citations Balderson had received for various infractions.

The misdemeanor charges mean Balderson faces more than six months in jail. Prosecutors hope Balderson will accept an offer of treatment and services in lieu of jail time.

“We’re all excited to see how this process is going to play out,” Gascón said before Balderson’s first court appearance Thursday.

But not all went as planned, Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said. Prosecutors had hoped Balderson would be kept in custody so that his needs could be assessed, Bastian said, but Judge Samuel Feng released Balderson from custody on his own recognizance. That means the chronic offender has yet to be assessed.

Balderson was ordered back to court May 22 to enter a plea. Prosecutors said they hope he will show up then.

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