Tang Juan, a Chinese researcher arrested in California last month for allegedly concealing her ties to China’s military, will be released on bail, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
The decision by US Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman, expected to take effect next week, came after Tang’s lawyers returned to court after a first failed attempt to release her on bail, saying that coronavirus cases in the jail where she is being held have put her at risk of infection.
Lawyers for the defence have argued that even if Tang – who had been a visiting medical researcher at the University of California, Davis – is eventually found guilty, she might only face a short prison sentence, and that an outside benefactor not yet identified by the court has volunteered to house her and help ensure she does not flee the country.
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Tang was denied bail once, on July 31 – after her arrest and before her indictment – because the court found that she was a flight risk.
Tang’s lawyers argued that circumstances have changed, and that the original ruling should no longer apply. For one thing, by the time a trial takes place on the charges she faces of visa fraud and making false statements, she might have already spent more time in jail than what she could be sentenced to. Tang’s lawyers have pointed out that a trial might not be scheduled until next year or even 2022.
“The problem addressed by the judge was how could the government reasonably keep someone – charged but not proven guilty – confined in jail pending a trial almost two years later when the punishment, even if there was a conviction, would likely be six months or less and even at its worst little more than a year?” said Malcolm Segal, a lawyer on her defence team.
“And, is it fair to do so during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought diagnosed cases of the virus to the jail?”
According to court documents, Tang, 37, entered the US in December on an educational exchange visa to conduct cancer treatment research at UCD, but did not disclose apparent military ties in her visa application. The count of visa fraud carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison; the false statements charge carries a charge of up to five years.
After being interviewed by the FBI on June 20, Tang fled to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco and stayed there for weeks before she was finally taken into custody on July 23. The charges for her arrest were filed on June 26.
Tang is being held in the Sacramento County Jail, which county public defenders last month described as a “tinderbox” for the coronavirus.
Her lawyers say she has a “pre-existing asthma condition that puts her at risk of serious complications were she to become infected”.
Federal prosecutors say she has provided no documentation of a medical condition, and that “only one” of the two dozen reported Covid-19 cases in the Sacramento County Jail “involves a federal inmate”.
In court filings, prosecutors warn that Tang remains a “serious flight risk”.
“She can still leave the United States without sacrificing anything,” they wrote in a motion this week opposing her pretrial release.
Tang’s lawyers say a “particularly significant” reason why Tang should be released from jail is the new availability of a “third-party custodian”: someone who is supposed to help ensure the defendant does not flee.
Prosecutors say such third parties typically make that assurance through personal ties to the defendant, and by offering the court a bond on their own property as collateral in case the defendant skips their trial.
The court has not publicly identified this third party, who was referred to during a Thursday hearing as “Mr C”.
The defence’s filings describe the individual as a “successful, highly reputable” California lawyer who came forward “only out of a deep and abiding sense of compassion and fairness and a belief in our system of equal justice”.
They say he learned about Tang’s case “in the media”.
“Through a network of Asian-American community leaders, business professionals and lawyers, private individuals came together to try locate someone able to provide Dr Tang a place to reside, and willing, if able, to act in the capacity of a third-party custodian tasked with Dr Tang’s supervision,” the lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors called the situation “particularly unusual”, in part because the custodian and his wife have never met Tang and do not know her “in any capacity”.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Chinese researcher Wang Xin pleads not guilty to visa fraud charge in the US
- China claims harassment as US refuses bail to scientist Tang Juan
- US prosecutors say Chinese researcher is evading arrest in San Francisco consulate
This article Detained Chinese scientist Tang Juan to be released on bail as defence cites coronavirus risk first appeared on South China Morning Post