Friday, April 28, 2017

Getting smart on crime: Criminal justice reform bills in the legislature

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 1:46 PM


The yearlong push for criminal justice reform in Louisiana will reach a critical point this week when a state Senate committee considers a handful of bills that reverse decades of overreaction to nonviolent crimes. It’s a small but vitally important step, but it’s encouraging that opposing sides are finding common ground.

Crime and justice always are hot-button issues, but effectively dealing with incarceration and rehabilitation requires a clear head — and politicians with the guts to stand up for what’s right in the face of demagogues who will assail them for being “soft on crime.”

Several lawmakers stand out as examples of that kind of courage: Sens. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, and Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego; Reps. Walt Leger and Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans; Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna; Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma; Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles; and Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro. They are sponsoring the reform bills this year.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Domestic violence protection for same-sex couples, dating partners moves to Louisiana House

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 2:25 PM


The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice passed without objection two bills extending domestic violence protection to same-sex couples and to dating partners. They move to the full House for expected debate next week.

Under current law, the victims of domestic violence are given some protections and assistance through the Protection From Family Violence Act. Domestic abuse is considered to be an act of violence committed by one household member to another.
In Louisiana, same-sex couples are not eligible for the assistance because current law defines a household member as “any person of the opposite sex presently or formerly living in the same residence with the defendant as a spouse, whether married or not.”

House Bill 27 by state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, would amend the definition of household member to include all couples with the elimination of the phrase “opposite sex.”

Two representatives from the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s office said they are not able to charge a suspect in same-sex violence as domestic violence, a more serious crime, instead having to opt for simple battery — a misdemeanor.

“(An abusive partner) should be prosecuted equally as anyone else would whether they’re opposite sex or not,” said state Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bill to kill Louisiana’s death penalty passes committee, heads to Senate floor

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 8:00 PM

State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican and a former prosecutor, wrote Senate Bill 142, which would abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.
  • State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican and a former prosecutor, wrote Senate Bill 142, which would abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.

When former prosecutor Marty Stroud began his career in Caddo Parish, his colleagues had a nickname for him: "fire eater." Stroud was notoriously tough, and well-known for his staunch support of the death penalty.

That’s all changed now, he told members of the Louisiana Senate’s Judiciary C Committee on Tuesday. He said the tide turned after his prosecution of Glenn Ford, who spent nearly 30 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.

“After the death verdict, myself and our team went out and celebrated the night away, comfortable with what I had accomplished,” Stroud recalled. “There was only one problem. The defendant was not guilty of the crime.”

Stroud, his voice at times cracking with emotion, relayed his story during a hearing Tuesday over Senate Bill 142, which calls for the abolition of the death penalty in Louisiana. It was written by Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor, a former prosecutor himself, and a Republican.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Lawmakers to introduce bills to abolish death penalty in the state

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 1:54 PM


A proposal to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana could help prevent a crisis the state’s public defenders say they are hurtling toward, unless drastic changes are made in how the state handles defense for the indigent.

But because the bill does not apply to those already convicted or indicted of capital offenses, the savings in money earmarked for such cases will come slowly. And the state’s district attorneys are taking a hardline stance against the idea, arguing to local lawmakers the move would take away a vital tool in obtaining plea bargains — hanging the possibility of the death penalty over defendants’ heads.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, state Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, and state Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, are authoring or co-authoring legislation that would end the death penalty. Claitor’s bill will get its first hearing on Tuesday.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Landrieu: letter threatening to pull funding over immigration issues is "another example of the Trump Administration acting before doing their homework"

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 5:25 PM


New Orleans is among nine jurisdictions targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which threatens to cut federal funding unless they can prove compliance with the feds over their "sanctuary" policies.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has repeatedly asserted to the administration of President Donald Trump that the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Sheriffs Office — both of which are under DOJ federal consent decrees — obey federal law, and that New Orleans is not a so-called "sanctuary city" for people living the country illegally.

Today, the DOJ sent letters "requiring proof of compliance," or else. "Many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime," according to a press release from the department. "The letters remind the recipient jurisdictions that, as a condition for receiving certain financial year 2016 funding from [the DOJ], each of these jurisdictions agreed to provide documentation and an opinion from legal counsel validating that they are in compliance."

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why do drug deaths eclipse murders in New Orleans? Xavier panel to discuss addiction and "truth behind the numbers"

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM


Drug overdose-related deaths eclipsed murders for the first time in New Orleans last year, prompting the coroner's office to remind the city of its "accelerating public health crisis." Coroner Jeffrey Rouse recorded 211 drug-related deaths in 2016, when there were 175 murders.

Of those 211 drug deaths, 166 involved opiates — compared to 81 in 2015. The synthetic opioid fentanyl also was involved in 48 deaths last year. There were 13 fentanyl-related deaths in 2015, when the city recorded 93 drug-related deaths overall.

On April 20, a panel of doctors and health care experts will discuss the "Truth Behind the Numbers: Why Overdose Deaths Have Surpassed Homicides in Louisiana" at Xavier University. The talk hopes to "change the conversation around addiction as a moral failing, and promote the fact that addiction is a chronic disease."

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trump suspends weekly immigration reports including New Orleans and cities that "limit cooperation" with feds

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Protesters in New Orleans march against Trump's immigration orders in January.
  • Protesters in New Orleans march against Trump's immigration orders in January.

Three weeks later, the Trump administration has suspended its weekly reports listing cities and local law enforcement that "limit cooperation" with federal immigration authorities. The reports listed jurisdictions that declined  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers requesting local law enforcement to maintain custody of people living in the country illegally — New Orleans landed on that list for the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) policy to “not honor a detainer without a judicial order or criminal warrant,” according to the report.

The reports aimed to pressure law enforcement and cities with so-called “sanctuary” policies to comply with President Donald Trump’s ramped-up enforcement of immigration actions. But after three reports and complaints of inaccuracy, corrections and clarifications from cities with orders from the Department of Justice that didn’t satisfy new DHS procedure, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspended the practice, “based on a desire to make sure that we have quality data [and] that the information we’re publishing is as accurate as we can be,” according to DHS spokesman David Lapan, speaking to CNN.

The administration hasn't defined "sanctuary" policy — in its reports, DHS says it "continues to evaluate the appropriate criteria" to define what exactly "sanctuary" policies are.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Louisiana Legislature to consider banning the death penalty in this year's session

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:11 PM


The Louisiana State Legislature is slated to consider a ban on the death penalty in this year's legislative session, after three former law enforcement officials introduced bills in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the chairman of the senate’s Judiciary C committee and former prosecutor in New Orleans, filed one of the bills.

He collaborated on the initiative, he said, with Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. Landry, who was a state police superintendent under former Gov. Mike Foster, wrote another bill with support from Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Winnsboro, a former sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Both Claitor’s Senate Bill 142 and Landry’s House Bill 101 would eliminate the death penalty and instead mandate life in prison without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of first degree murder, first degree rape or treason.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Consent decree or not, NOPD Chief Harrison wants "fair, constitutional policing"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 6:30 PM

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison: "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform." - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison: "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform."

In a recent memo to the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an “immediate review” of all department activities, including all existing and planned consent decrees with law enforcement agencies. “Local control and local accountability are necessary for local policing,” Sessions wrote. “It is not the role of the federal government to manage non-federal law agencies.”

Since 2009, according to The Washington Post, the department has opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and enforced 14 consent decrees, among other agreements, in the wake of civil rights violations and corruption in police departments around the U.S. Those agreements include consent decrees with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, overseen by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), overseen by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. Since 2013, DOJ reforms within NOPD — detailed in nearly 500 points on more than 100 pages — aim to overhaul nearly everything within the department, from anti-bias measures and profiling to how officers handle domestic violence cases, efforts to ensure “constitutional policing” across the board.

Former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite — who was asked to leave his post even after he submitted his resignation as President Donald Trump cleaned house — said Sessions’ memo isn’t enough to end the agreements. “Not sure if Sessions knows this,” Polite said on Twitter, “but he can't stop Judges Africk and Morgan from ensuring that our NOLA consent decrees move forward.”

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Getting smart on crime

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 2:54 PM


Louisiana lawmakers will struggle to make sense of our state’s fiscal mess when they convene next month, and that struggle will overshadow all other pressing matters. Yet there’s one overarching issue on which legislators of all stripes ought to agree: the need for meaningful criminal justice reform.

Reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice system is actually a fiscal issue. We spend way too much money incarcerating nonviolent offenders — upwards of $700 million a year on corrections. That cost has gotten so out of hand that sentencing reform has become a rallying point for a growing number of conservative Republicans. More need to get on board.

Locking up nonviolent offenders doesn’t make us tough on crime, it makes us dumb on crime — because it turns nonviolent people into hardened criminals while they’re behind bars. Most of them get out at some point. You know what happens next.

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