New Orleans District Attorney

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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Friday, February 12, 2010

Cannizzaro Sticking with Batt

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 4:12 PM

New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says he will continue his involvement in the District A City Council race, which is headed for a runoff on March 6. Cannizzaro endorsed former councilman Jay Batt, a Republican, in the Feb. 6 primary for the council’s District A seat, which includes parts of Lakeview, Uptown, Mid-City and Carrollton. Batt faces Susan Guidry, a Democrat, in the runoff. In the primary, Guidry garnered 44 percent of the vote to Batt’s 39 percent.

Cannizzaro says he decided to publicly endorse Batt when the Guidry campaign began putting out materials saying Batt was lenient towards blight. Batt countered the accusation, holding out his volunteer work with the nonprofit organization Beacon of Hope and his legislative record with the council as examples of his anti-blight efforts.
Cannizzaro, who supported the failed mayoral campaign of businessman John Georges as well as Batt’s, says he will offer endorsements in future elections.
“Not all of them, but I will when I see it as important,” Cannizzaro says.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Public Defenders Carrying a Heavy Load

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 10:50 PM

Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton says that some of his staff lawyers, particularly those that defend clients charged with higher felony crimes including rape and murder, are so overloaded with clients that he will have to stop assigning cases to them.

“Some of these lawyers will simply become inactive, which means we’ll have fewer lawyers to take cases,” Bunton says.

That does not mean the public defender’s office will stop accepting new murder and rape cases. In the short term, Bunton will promote some of his lower level staff to cover the defenses of more serious charges. He will also hire lawyers from the office’s conflict panel, which is used when there is a conflict in a case such as multiple defendants on one charge or case overload, as well as asking local lawyers to take cases pro bono.

Bunton says one of his attorneys has closed 400 felony cases this year, which the chief defender says is nearly three times the national standard of 150 cases. Due to budget constraints — the New Orleans City Council cut a $500,000 in funding that it gave to the public defenders for the first time last year — Bunton can’t hire any new attorneys even though his office is trying more cases. The public defenders’ office operates on a budget of $5.2 million with $2.7 million coming from the state, and the rest is generated through court fees and fines.

According to a Metropolitan Crime Commission report for the first six months of 2009, there were about 2,000 more arrests in Orleans Parish than in 2008, and the district attorney’s office accepted 1,006 more cases. Bunton says the criminal justice system is performing more effectively and attributes the rising figures to “competent leadership” and incremental increases in the 2009 budgets for the DA and the public defenders.

“You’ve got dividends and to all of a sudden, given those results, start messing with that?” Bunton asks. “Us and trash pickup are really the only successful policy areas for the city.”

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter says he has told Bunton that he needs to reduce the excessive caseloads for his staff and the conflict panel.

“If he doesn’t comply with it, I will have no choice but to file a complaint with the (Louisiana) bar association,” Hunter says.

Hunter points out that it is the state’s responsibility to pay for public defense, and not the city. He says the state has failed for a number of years to provide adequate funding for indigent defense, and that this is having a dangerous effect on the city’s criminal justice system.

“Something has to be done,” Hunter says. “The public defenders’ office is as much a part of the criminal justice system as the courts, the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and the coroner’s office. If one doesn’t work, it affects the other agencies.”

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Monday, November 9, 2009

DA's Proposed Cut is 15 Percent

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 3:27 PM

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says the mayor's proposed 2010 budget slashes 15 percent from the $6 million the city allocated to the DA's office is 2009.  According to Cannizzaro, Nagin removed $575,000 from DA funding -- in keeping with Nagin's 10 percent across-the-board cut of all city departments -- but he also eliminated an additional $300,000 to investigate cold case homicides, which the New Orleans City Council had awarded to Cannizzaro's office in June.

"$875,000 out of a total of $6 million is 14.5 percent, almost 15 percent," Cannizzaro says.

Starting at 9:30 a.m. this morning in council chambers, the council will begin its 2010 budget hearings. Cannizzaro is expected to appear before the council sometime today.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Carter: We Already Did That

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 7:43 PM

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During a recent interview with Councilmember James Carter, Gambit asked Carter about NOPD’s current procedure of arresting anyone suspected of first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession, rather than issuing summons. Carter, who is the chair of the Council’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said that the Council had attempted to provide the NOPD with some legislative guidance when it passed an ordinance in March 2008 permitting the issuance of a written summons instead of arrest.

“[It] was to encourage NOPD not to arrest individuals on municipal violations, as opposed to giving summons for municipal violations,” Carter said, referring to the ordinance (amending the Article I of Chapter 54 of the city’s municipal code). The Councilman did clarify that the ordinance was intended to address all municipal violations, which includes first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession. He did, however, specify how he thought NOPD officers should handle cases involving first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession.

“It should be a summons,” Carter said.

In August, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro addressed the Council, requesting they pass an ordinance allowing first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession cases to be prosecuted in Municipal Court rather than Criminal Court. The move, according to Cannizzaro, would relieve the Criminal Court docket of about one-third (700 cases) of its caseload, and would enable the DA’s office to focus on more serious, violent crimes. It would also help with crowded conditions at Orleans Parish Prison, Cannizzaro added, “if the police were of a mind to write the affidavit, rather than arresting someone for the simple possession.

Off camera, Carter can be heard saying, “exactly.”

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Monday, August 10, 2009

$14 Million Judgment Against City is Upheld

Posted By on Mon, Aug 10, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Following today’s announcement that by default the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a $14 million judgment for former death-row inmate, John Thompson, against the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office, DA Leon Cannizzaro says his office will now have to consider the next step.

“We have an obligation to pursue it to the next level, which would be the United States Supreme Court,” Cannizzaro says, adding he hasn’t had a chance yet to review today’s ruling.

The Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals is made up of 16 judges, so eight judges were for upholding the decision by the a three-judge panel from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in December of last year had upheld a jury decision awarding Thompson $14 million in damages and $1 million in attorney fees because the DA's office failed to properly train, monitor and supervise its attorneys on evidence disclosure. Since the 16 judges were unable to come to a majority decision, the case reverts back to the ruling by the three-judge panel.

On Jan. 17, 1985, Thompson was charged with the murder of hotel executive Ray Liuzza, who was robbed and killed a month earlier. Before that case went to trial, Connick's office convicted Thompson of armed robbery in an unrelated case. Thompson's attorneys in the murder case, knowing that prosecutors would use the armed robbery conviction against him if he testified in his own defense, advised him not to take the stand in the murder trial, which lasted three days. Thompson, who had 4-year-old and 6-year-old sons at the time, was convicted and sentenced to death.

Fourteen years later — just one month before he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection — investigators working for Thompson discovered the DA's office had withheld blood evidence that would have exonerated him of the armed robbery. It took another four years for Thompson to win a new trial on the murder charge, on grounds he was deprived of his constitutional right to testify in his own defense. Thompson testified in the second trial, and his attorneys presented other DA-withheld evidence — including police and incident reports, witness statements, and eyewitnesses to the crime. This time, a jury deliberated 35 minutes before acquitting Thompson.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

One of the most sensible things anyone in this city has ever done? Or THE most sensible thing anyone in this city has ever done?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 9:51 PM

Leon sez getting tough on crime means getting real about pot laws:

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro appeared before the City Council on Thursday to push for a change to the way the city prosecutes simple marijuana cases.

"Please keep in mind I am not here advocating the legalization or the criminalization of marijuana whatsoever," Cannizzaro said.

But Cannizzaro is asking that misdemeanor marijuana cases be transferred from criminal district court to municipal court.

Even Councilmember Jackie Clarkson (whom we doubt is a fan of the chronic, the doob, the Mary Jane) agreed:

"We think we have to get the misdemeanor crimes out of your way, so to speak, so you have every open avenue to attack the real criminals," she said....

"Many of the these people would be given essentially a traffic ticket and a summons to show up in court to handle their charge," Cannizzaro said.

Freeing up the courts for violent offenders strikes us as blindly sensible in a town not known for its blinding sensibility. What do you think?

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fired Cop Resigns from DA’s Office

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 4:41 PM

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office announced this morning that David Lapene has resigned from the DA’s investigative staff. New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Rily fired Lapene, a five-year NOPD veteran, in May for his involvement in barroom brawl at the Beach Corner Lounge in February 2008. After reviewing the case file on the Beach Corner Lounge incident and determining there wasn’t sufficient evidence against the officer to warrant a battery charge, DA Leon Cannizzaro recently hired Lapene to serve as a DA investigator.

     In his resignation letter, Lapene said he didn’t want to be a distraction for Cannizzaro’s office, and wrote “that continuing my employment with you could interfere with your good work in attempting to make a positive difference in this community.”

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Honoring the Victims

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2009 at 6:00 PM

Tomorrow morning from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m. the Orleans District Attorney’s Office is partnering with the local United States Attorney’s Office and the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)

     In 1984, Congress passed VOCA that created the Crime Victims Fund, which is financed through fines and fees from offenders. The fund has grown to more the $2 billion and distributed throughout the nation to assist the nearly 4 million crime victims. In Orleans Parish, the criminal sheriff’s office is in charge of the Crime Victims Assistance Program.

     The free event will be held at St. Mary’s Academy, 6905 Chef Menteur Highway, and will feature food, music and entertainment and several community groups will be on hand displaying information and resources available for crime victims. At 11:30 a.m., U.S. Attorney Jim Letten will distribute awards, recognizing victims of violent crimes and their surviving families. Letten will be joined by DA Leon Cannizzaro and other celebrity guests. 

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Fielkow throwing down?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 8:39 PM

Just came from a crime meeting at Buffa's Bar & Grill that had been organized in the wake of Wendy Byrne's murder in the Lower French Quarter, a couple of blocks away. The meeting hadn't been formally organized by any group, but seemed to generate spontaneously from discussions on's Vieux Carré and Marigny forums. More than 100 people, alerted by email and word of mouth, showed up for the noon meeting -- as did Councilmembers James Carter and Arnie Fielkow, along with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and several members of his staff.

Representatives of the NOPD were not there, and there seemed to be some confusion over whether they were formally invited. Fielkow told the gathering: "I talked to Major Hosli [Edwin Hosli, commander of the NOPD's 8th District] an hour ago, and he had to get permission from headquarters to come. Next time, make sure they have a formal invitation in advance." (Later, Fielkow said "Frankly, it is BS that even if they weren't invited that they didn't come to this meeting.")

After an introduction in which Fielkow stressed that the councilmembers and the DA's staff were there to listen, he and Cannizzaro ended up doing most of the talking, along with a few voluble members of the crowd, who were uniformly frustrated at what they said was poor police response from the NOPD, from taking reports to making regular patrols of the Lower Quarter and Marigny.

Carter called Byrne's murder "shameful and intolerable," and added, "We need visible patrols in these areas. I spoke to Maj. Hosli and that is going to happen. And the city has dispersed the people who repair lights throughout the Quarter, to stay until every light is fixed."

One resident said that she'd seen more patrols in the Quarter since Byrne's slaying than she'd ever seen, and was afraid they'd go away unless the group could come up with a concrete plan of action. But no one in the crowd seemed to know what that would be, other than creating an email and cellphone list for citizen crime reporting.

Cannizzaro spoke about the importance of prosecution, urging the crowd to make sure they come forward and file police reports in every case.

"And what if the police refuse to take a report?" asked one man.

"Then call my office," Cannizzaro said.

"So if they don't come, we should call your office?" said a woman holding a poodle, sounding puzzled.

Lord David, a blogger at Humid City, said that in his experience NOPD officers had refused to file reports on the scene. Thom Kahler, publisher of the crimewatch Web site NOCrimeline, found that ridiculous and suggested that Lord David's "attitude" may be to blame. "Do I have an attitude, too?" asked another man who said NOPD had failed to file a report on his behalf.

Writer Ethan Brown, whose wife was mugged recently, was the most direct member of the group: "What happened to my wife was the result of a total lack of police doing their job. Everyone here should go to the Metropolitan Commision Website. Less than 10% of arrests in New Orleans are made for violent offenses. The NOPD is not remotely doing its job, and yet we're constantly told to cooperate. What are you going to do," he asked the councilmembers, "to make the NOPD do their jobs?"

Fielkow proposed a solution. "Let me suggest a path. I think you need to come up with a laundry list of problems and what the potential solutions are, and I would suggest you schedule a meeting with Maj. Hosli and Chief [Warren] Riley," Fielkow said. He urged the group to come up with an action plan and bring it to him, Carter, and council president Jackie Clarkson. “We would like accountability for the police to come from the top. If he won't meet with you, we will request that he appear before council, and if he does not, we will issue a subpoena.

"And if nothing comes from that, you will see the council take the next step."

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