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Orleans District Attorney and Orleans Public Defenders on the Same Team?

Yes, its true!  Can you believe it?  The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office (DA) and the Orleans Public Defender’s Office (OPD) have finally come together and are working on the same team, but if you’re hoping for a quick resolution of your case based on their alliance, you’ve probably got to wait a little bit longer.

The allegiance between the DA and the OPD arose over a dispute between the DA, the OPD, and the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges.  For a long time, judges at Tulane and Broad have been overwhelmed with long dockets of unresolved cases which drag on for ages.  In some cases, the accused sit in jail for years before their cases comes to trial.  Agencies such as Court Watch NOLA have made it their sole job to inform the public of the mis-management of courtroom dockets.  In some cases they are right.  There are some judges at Tulane and Broad who have dockets which number well above the average.  On the other hand, there are some very well run dockets by others.

Both sides in this feud have a solution, but neither seem willing to back down from their position.  The DA/OPD advocate a system where each person who is arrested will be assigned a courtroom immediately upon arrest.  In turn, the judge’s favor a system where only those who are prosecuted, that is, charges are filed, will be assigned a courtroom.

And there are flaws in both.  In the DA/OPD system it is PRESUMED that every person who is arrested will appear before a judge at some point before the case against them is resolved.  This leads to longer dockets and more innocents facing trial for crimes they truly didn’t commit.  It also leads to more GUILTY criminals receiving their punishment.  Additionally, this also means greater expense: paperwork must be filed, public defenders retained to serve as council, DA’s and ADA’s must develop cases, and, in many instances, it means there are more defendants, innocent or guilty, in the Orleans Parish Prison system.   The judge’s propose system is not perfect either.  Their system presumes that not everyone who is arrested should appear before a judge.  It presumes that some people who are arrested will be let off with a slap on the wrist after a cold night in jail.  Also, the system does not take into account that many people who are arrested are not formal arraigned on charges for as long as 60 days after arrest (and sometimes more for murder trials).  This means that those who are in facing ‘potential’ charges do not have the benefit of a courtroom to have their grievances heard or a chance to have their case resolved efficiently.   The judges argue the system supported by the DA/OPD would lead to an un-equal distribution of cases across the courtrooms, however they do not propose  a solution with their post-charging alotment system.

Turning back to my experience in Florida, particulary in Orange and Osceola counties.  During the summer between my second and third years of law school, I clerked for the public defender for those counties.  When an accused person is arrested, the are booked and a bail is automatically set for the crime they are accused.  If they make their bond to get out of jail, they don’t see a judge until their formal arraignment, which is usually about two weeks later (if they don’t make their bond, the are arraigned, informally, within 36 hours).  There, each judges has a revolving duty week doing arraignments.  During their week conducting arraignments, they receive all their new cases, which were assigned to them at the time the accused was released from jail.  Since, one can presume that around the same number of people are arrested every week, all the judges receive approximately the same number of cases.  At formal arraignment you meet the public defender who will represent you if you are indigent and you see the prosecutor who will be handling your case.  This is exactly the type of system the DA/OPD are hoping will be used in Orleans.  And the best part?  The system works!  Every weekday people are arraigned and each judge receives an even number of cases throughout the year.

As a criminal defense attorney in New Orleans, I strongly hope that the DA, OPD, and Criminal District Court judges work out a resolution.  There are few too many people who are falsely accused of crimes which they did not commit.  Far too many who need to see the inside of a courtroom in order to have their cases resolved efficiently.  And far too few who will benefit from a broken criminal justice system.

For more information about this, please see this article from the Times-Picayune. As always, if you or anyone you know is in legal assistance, please visit our website or click on the link on the right.

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