CourtWatch NOLA Calls For Changes At Criminal Courts

Apr 12, 2017

Justice advocates are recommending changes at New Orleans Criminal Court. One suggestion is not locking up victims who refuse to testify. The annual report from CourtWatch NOLA says prosecutors should consider that victims can be afraid of retaliation if they appear in court.

They’re called material witness warrants. Prosecutors convince a judge that the victim’s testimony is key to the case, and the person can be arrested. CourtWatch Nola has released an annual review of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court with recommended changes for officials to review – and possibly make those changes. Simone Levine is executive director of the group of volunteers who monitor proceedings.

She says arresting at least six victims in one year is unusually high, and troubling.

“Of those six victims, one of them was a rape victim. That rape victim did eight days in jail – the same jail – the Orleans Justice Center – that her aggressor did time in as well," she said.

More than 130 CourtWatch volunteers made over 1,100 visits to Criminal District Court last year. Observers say almost 60 percent of criminal cases were presented without physical or scientific evidence or eyewitness testimony.

“According to the National Registry of Exoneration, Louisiana has the second-highest rate per capita rate of wrongful convictions in the country," she said.

The report recommends police hire and train more lab technicians to process evidence. It also recommends more transparency in the system by limiting sidebar conferences that jurors and the public can’t hear.