DA Williams renews request to Mayor and City Council to release federal funds to help law enforcement & community partners surge back on crime
NEW ORLEANS – Yesterday, District Attorney Jason Williams outlined the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s (OPDA) plans for improvement specifically around 701 charging deadlines. While OPDA stands by the practice of not prosecuting people without appropriate evidence, after internal review, the office recognizes areas for improvement to increase efficiency and ultimately, meet the 701 charging deadline in more cases.
“The 701 charging deadlines numbers are problematic and very frustrating. These numbers are not the result of new progressive policies or reforms. This was a system break down on my watch and I’m fixing it. Whether they be released from a bond obligation or custody, these numbers fly in the face of my professed goal of reducing screening times to five days.” said District Attorney Williams. “We are not running from this problem; we are owning, fixing it and planning to share the results of our efforts on it. The people of New Orleans can rest assured that we are taking swift and corrective action on every level to address and correct it.”
With increased crime in New Orleans along with the suspension of jury trials due to COVID-19, OPDA’s Screening and Trials Divisions are managing increased, unprecedented caseloads. After internal review, OPDA did not appropriately adjust staffing and resources to manage the increased load of cases, and there was not enough oversight of critical functions. Additionally, OPDA did not develop work arounds to make up for the lost access to databases & technology from other law enforcement agencies after the 2019 city cyber-attack.
As a result of these challenges, DA Williams has made the following adjustments to better manage meeting 701 charging deadlines. There have been a number of leadership and management changes made by the DA including:
- Appointing Ned McGowan as First Assistant District Attorney (ADA). McGowan is the former Chief of Trials.
- Appointing Bob White as Executive ADA overseeing all Federal Law Enforcement Relations as well as the interim leader of those in Magistrate and Municipal Courts.
- Appointing Matt Derbes as Chief of Trials.
- Reassigning Paige Cline, the former Chief of all screening, to solely supervise murders, sex crimes, and general screening.
- Hiring former New Orleans ADA Karen Avery to oversee Domestic Violence Screening.
- Bringing on new screeners including former Judge Morris Reed and former Jefferson Parish ADA Hillary Landry.
- Paying overtime to ADAs to help screen the backlog of cases.
- Assigning Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Mithun Kamath to work with the First ADA and Screening Team to implement new strategies and tracking of Screening Division efforts.
Additionally, Screening ADAs will start hosting more Charging Conferences with the New Orleans Police Department for additional, increased coordination on charging decisions and to ensure all efforts are exhausted before a case is refused. OPDA will also be strengthening the tracking of requests to other law enforcement agencies for needed evidence.
DA RENEWS REQUEST FOR MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL TO ALLOCATE AVAILABLE FEDERAL FUNDS TO SURGE BACK ON CRIME THROUGH PREVENTION & ENFORCEMENT
As part of this plan, DA Williams is renewing the call on Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the New Orleans City Council to fund requests for additional ADAs, increased DNA testing capacity and Cold Case Unit to improve the office’s ability to work with police to gather more evidence and build strong cases.
UNDERSTANDING 701 CHARGING DEADLINE & IMPACT ON SAFETY
Article 701B of Louisiana Statutory Criminal Law and Procedure stipulates “Failure to institute prosecution shall result in the release of the defendant if, after contradictory hearing with the district attorney, just cause for the failure is not shown. If just cause is shown, the court shall reconsider bail for the defendant. Failure to institute prosecution shall result in the release of the bail obligation if, after contradictory hearing with the district attorney, just cause for the delay is not shown.”
If the defendant is out on bond and OPDA misses the charging deadline, the defendant remains out on jail and is released from bond obligations. Last year, 73% of the cases where charging deadlines were missed, the defendant was already released from jail after meeting bond obligations.
If a defendant is in jail and OPDA misses the charging deadline, the defendant is released from jail. Last year, 52 people were released from jail that were facing violent crime or domestic violence charges. This is less than 1% of the amount of people arrested in 2021.
In both instances, even if a charging deadline is missed, OPDA can, and in majority of cases does, still accept charges against a defendant.