Thursday, February 25, 2010

DA and Police Processing Drug Cases Faster

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 3:09 PM

The New Orleans criminal justice system has cut down from 64 days to 10.5 days the time it takes to process simple drug possession cases in the Orleans criminal court through an initiative by the Criminal Justice Leadership Alliance (CJLA).

"This is a result of much better cooperation particularly between the police department and the district attorney’s office to get these things moving through the system,” says New Orleans Councilman James Carter, who started CJLA in the fall of 2007 along with Luceia LeDoux, a public safety and program director for Baptist Community Ministries.

By expediting the process, Carter says it allows the New Orleans Police Department and the DA to concentrate its resources on building strong cases against repeat felony suspects, and, at the same time, release those indigent defendants that spend time in Orleans Parish Prison waiting for a determination on misdemeanor charges.

Often referred to as “victimless” crimes, simple drug possession can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount and whether or not there was an intent to distribute. Possession charges account for roughly one-third of the state arrests in Orleans Parish.

The “Expedited Screening and Disposition” initiative was started in March of 2009, and combines efforts by CJLA members, which include representatives from the NOPD, the district attorney’s office and other parts of the criminal justice system. By the terms of the initiative, NOPD agreed to email police reports and field test reports to the DA’s office within 48 hours of an arrest (except on weekends). In turn, the DA’s office assented to make a screening decision within 24 hours of receiving the reports, the defendant’s criminal record and after interviewing the arresting officers.

Previously, the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans District Attorney’s Office would wait until near the end of the time provided — 45 days for a misdemeanor and 60 days for a felony — to complete the police paperwork and to decide whether or not to prosecute a case.

For January, the initiative reports a decrease from 61 days to seven days the time required to arrest a suspect and to decide whether or not they will be charged with a crime. What has changed little is the time it takes from the filing of the DA’s screening decision to a defendant’s arraignment in court, which stands at 4.5 days.

Carter has made criminal justice reform one of his main concerns during his time with the council.

"I'm leaving the Council soon, and, hopefully, this work can continue on into the next administration,” says Carter, whose term ends this May.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit concerned with improving justice systems, advises CJLA. Jon Wool, the institute’s New Orleans director, will present the imitative’s report today at the general meeting of the New Orleans City Council.

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