NEW ORLEANS – Today, District Attorney Jason Williams announced the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s (OPDA) latest initiatives and policies to increase safety in neighborhoods and hold violent offenders accountable. These initiatives and policies include 1.) prioritizing screening and prosecuting violent crime cases, 2.) holding carjackers accountable by prosecuting as armed robberies which increases maximum sentences and jail terms, 3.) utilizing firearm sentencing provisions to ensure minimum sentencing requirements for gun crimes, 4.) continuing to push for the use of Gwen’s Law in domestic violence cases to allow more informed bail hearings for domestic violence offenders, 5.) securing grand jury indictments for violent crimes as well as a second special grand jury for surge of violent crime, 6.) securing guilty pleas during covid-19 court closures and 7.) solving cold cases with limited resources. Additionally, DA Williams addressed the need for higher solve rates.
While OPDA is actively working to increase safety, there is a need for more crimes to be solved by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). According to FBI data for 2020, the NOPD only solved 30% of murders, 35% of robberies and only 8% of car thefts. If more arrests are made for violent crimes, OPDA can secure more convictions for the people of this city.
“The truth is the solve rate is critical to making this city safer. It’s not something to bicker about or be hurt by. It is an accurate diagnosis that needs to collectively corrected. To be clear, this is not an indictment on the hard-working men and women of the NOPD on the street, but this is about how they are deployed and what they are told to prioritize by leadership. This is a leadership crisis,” said DA Williams. “Regardless of the misinformation swirling about this office’s policies, this administration, has been, and continues to be focused on prosecuting violent crime in this city. Unique times call for unique measures and my office is focused on finding solutions as well as taking numerous steps to hold individuals accountable for serious offenses. Through these initiatives and partnership with all criminal legal system actors, we are committed to working together and providing leadership that make families safer. That’s my office’s commitment to the people of New Orleans.”
The policies OPDA is implementing to increase safety and hold people accountable include:
Prioritize Screening & Prosecuting Violent Crimes
From Day 1, OPDA has been laser-focused on prosecuting violent crimes including shootings, murders, armed robberies, and carjackings. In the last 9 months, the Williams Administration has accepted 95% of murder cases, 100% of manslaughter cases, 77% of robbery cases and 70% of car theft cases. Through this office’s commitment to not waste time and resources on accepting and prosecuting simple drug possession and other minor charges that are not tied to other violent offenses, OPDA has been able to focus more on the violent crime happening in neighborhoods. In October 2021, OPDA launched a new Narcotics Unit that will, in part, prosecute those who traffic cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.
For more information on OPDA’s work, please visit the Adult Case Screening Dashboard available at orleansda.com.
Holding Carjackers Accountable by Prosecuting as Armed Robberies Increasing Maximum Sentences/Jail Terms
In response to current crime trends, OPDA has been focusing on prosecuting carjacking cases. Between January 2021 and October 2021, 237 carjacking and automotive theft charges were instituted by the Williams administration. 38 of those accepted carjacking charges were for adult offenders; 199 of the carjacking charges accepted were for juvenile offenders.
To increase accountability for those terrorizing families through carjacking, DA Williams has instructed adult and juvenile trials Assistant District Attorneys to charge all appropriate carjacking cases as armed robberies to increase the maximum sentences allowed under the law. Carjackings can be charged as armed robberies when there is a gun involved; the overwhelming majority of carjackings in Orleans Parish involve a gun. Under Louisiana law, an adult prosecuted for carjacking faces a sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison. By adding armed robbery charges to appropriate carjacking cases, adults would face 10 to 99 years in prison and juveniles could be sentenced to juvenile life.
To aid in this process, OPDA will be requesting that the NOPD arresting officers charge carjackings as armed robberies where appropriate on the front end.
Utilizing Firearm Sentencing Provisions to Ensure Minimum Sentencing Requirements for Gun Crimes
In the fourth quarter of 2021, OPDA’s adult Trials Division was instructed to utilize Firearm Sentencing Provisions to invoke minimum sentencing requirements for those who are committing serious violent crimes with guns. Under the Firearm Sentencing Provision, a person with unlawful possession of a firearm faces an additional minimum sentence of 5 years in prison, 10-year minimum sentence for firing a firearm, 15-year minimum sentence for shooting someone and a 20-year minimum sentence for killing someone with a firearm.
OPDA believes this is lawful and necessary to increase accountability for those who continue to wreak havoc in our communities with guns; the office will ensure that these provisions are used fairly and justly.
Increase use of Gwen’s Law in Domestic Violence Cases to allow more informed bail hearings for domestic violence offenders
While prosecuting domestic violence cases are very difficult, OPDA is working every day to hold those accountable who commit this crime. In 2021, the New Orleans City Council allocated $300,000 to allow our office to fund OPDA’s first Human Trafficking/Domestic Violence Unit.
To ensure domestic violence offenders are subject to a purposeful, more involved contradictory bail hearing, OPDA is invoking Gwen’s Law in Magistrate Court where possible. Gwen’s Law allows for more informed bail hearing for domestic violence offenses; the Williams Administration is taking full advantage of the provision to ensure that those accused of domestic violence are not allowed to be released before a hearing is held regarding the potential danger they pose.
Securing Grand Jury Indictments for Violent Crimes, Launched Special Grand Jury
Despite sustained challenges last year resulting from pandemic- and hurricane-induced court closures, including continued suspensions of jury trials, DA Williams has not wavered on his commitment to build an Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office that holds people accountable for the harm they cause in our neighborhoods. One way in which the office is doing so is by convening the Grand Jury, as well as a second special Grand Jury, to pursue indictments for the most violent crimes being committed in New Orleans. In 2021, the DA’s Office obtained 58 grand jury indictments.
Securing Guilty Pleas
While COVID-19 has halted jury trials, OPDA is holding violent offenders accountable by securing guilty pleas. In 2021, OPDA secured guilty pleas in over 1,700 cases with over 3,000 charges resulting in guilty pleas. While OPDA is proud of this success, this work can be strengthened with stronger cases and evidence given provided to the office as well as additional investments to increase DNA testing.
Solving Cold Cases with Limited Resources
In August 2020, OPDA launched the Cold Case Unit to help solve murders, get repeat offenders off the streets and bring healing to families. This unit is charged with revisiting past data and information, putting fresh eyes on evidence originally found to be part of the case, and reexamining behaviors to ensure the DA’s Office is doing everything possible to secure justice for victims and families.
Despite limited resources, DA Williams launched this unit because he believed that countless mothers and fathers have gone numerous years with their questions unanswered and justice denied for their sons and daughters. In December 2020, after new evidence was found, in part, by our staff and with the diligent investigation by NOPD Detectives and one of our Assistant District Attorneys, OPDA empaneled a special grand jury and indict an individual for the murder and robbery of a Tulane graduate committed over Mother’s Day weekend in 2016, over 5 years ago.