In testimony before a City Council committee meeting last week, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said his office won convictions in 80 percent of jury trials closed in 2012. Cannizzaro said that number was "unheard of" in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
According to DA spokesman Christopher Bowman, who spoke to Gambit after the August 1 joint Budget/Criminal Justice Committee meeting, all of those convictions stemmed from felony arrests, because almost all misdemeanors are tried before judges. "Probably ... 99 percent of jury trials are felonies," Bowman said.
Bowman said the DA's office calculates its jury trial conviction rate based on the number of defendants, not number of trials, because sometimes several defendants are tried together. Bowman said the conviction stats also include cases in which jurors were sworn in and then during the trial defendants pleaded guilty. Bowman added that Criminal Court judges also calculate the number of jury trials in their respective sections from the time jurors are sworn in. "We're using the same definition of 'jury trial' as the judges," Bowman told Gambit.
According to Bowman, the DA's office took 126 defendants to trial in the first half of 2012. Of those cases, 117 reached final resolutions. Juries returned guilty verdicts or defendants pleaded guilty in 94 of those cases, and in 23 cases the defendants were found not guilty — a conviction rate of 80.3 percent. There were seven hung juries and two additional mistrials declared by judges, which are not counted in calculating the DA's conviction rate, Bowman said. He added that all defendants will be tried again in the cases that ended in mistrials.
"I would have no problem counting [mistrials] as a loss if we never elected to retry the person, which we never do," Bowman said. He added that many defendants, wary of a second trial, will opt to take a guilty plea.
While he had not seen the numbers and could not independently verify them, Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) president Rafael Goyeneche said that 80 percent "is a significant improvement for what has historically been the conviction rate for jury trials in Orleans Parish." Goyeneche pointed to a 2004 MCC study showing that between 1999 and 2003, Orleans Parish juries convicted defendants only 56 percent of the time.
The DA's overall conviction rate for cases closed in the first half of 2012, including felony guilty pleas, state misdemeanor guilty pleas and judge trials, is more than 90 percent, Cannizzaro told the council members. — CHARLES MALDONADO