SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge signaled Wednesday he will likely release a former Peruvian president on bond pending his extradition case unless the federal government stops keeping him in solitary confinement.
"Most people agree that being in solitary is pretty close to torture," U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said. "Why should that not be considered a special circumstance that would justify somebody's release?"
Former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo Manrique filed an appeal last month, seeking to undo a magistrate judge's decision to deny him bond pending resolution of his extradition case.
Toledo is wanted in Peru on charges of taking $20 million in bribes from a Brazilian construction company. The former head of state, who led Peru’s government from 2001 to 2006, claims the charges are politically motivated and based on coerced witness statements.
At a hearing Wednesday, Chhabria asked federal prosecutors to explain why the 75-year-old ex-president should stay locked alone in a cell for potentially years to come while his case moves forward, given a jail psychiatrist's finding that his mental health is deteriorating.
"He's in that cell by himself for 47 hours out of 48 hours, which is the kind of thing that makes people go insane," Chhabria said.
U.S. prosecutor Rebecca Haciski told Chhabria he would be the first judge ever to find conditions of confinement create a special circumstance justifying release. No case law supports that position, she argued.
Chhabria replied that the U.S. Supreme Court did not list every potential "special circumstance" when it established that requirement in its 1903 opinion, Wright v. Henkel.
Eight people from three states posted $1 million bond to help secure Toledo's release.
Prosecutors asked Chhabria to reject the bond proposal, arguing Toledo poses a flight risk. They claim the ex-president has access to hidden assets through intermediaries and that his attempt to renew his passport in June shows a willingness to flee.
Despite the government's objections, Chhabria said he would likely issue a ruling ordering Toledo to be released on bond and subject to house arrest while wearing an ankle monitor. The judge said he would also probably stay his ruling for a limited time so the government can take affirmative steps to get Toledo out of solitary confinement or appeal his decision to the Ninth Circuit.
U.S. prosecutor Elise LaPunzina said the U.S. Marshals Service would look into transferring Toledo to a facility in San Mateo County or Los Angeles, where he would not be held in solitary confinement.
Toledo has been detained in a solitary cell at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County since he was arrested on July 16.
Chhabria said he would issue a written ruling on Thursday.
After the hearing, Toledo's wife, Eliane Karp, and his public defender, Graham Archer, declined to comment.
At a hearing in September, Karp was forcibly removed from a courtroom after she shouted at the judge who denied her husband release on bond, saying the judge would be "morally responsible" for her husband's death.
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