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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

NOLA's CJ system - another failure

How broken do you suppose a Criminal Justice system can get? At what point does the problem get so bad that a state recognizes it has failed?

Would this be bad enough?

If the state can't find more money for indigent defense, the defenders' office plans to seek the release of its estimated 4,000 defendants, White says. "This is unprecedented. The majority of the accused crimes are going to be serious offenses. In New Orleans, they don't prosecute forgery and stolen cars very often."

This problem pre-dates Katrina; all the storm did was hasten the total breakdown.

Without divine intervention (since LA's Legislature obviously isn't much help), Polimom thinks New Orleans will have to free all of the indigent accused. Their constitutional right to a "fair and speedy trial" has already been stomped into the dust, given that many of these individuals have already languished for six months - in jail - without even a call to an attorney, much less a trial.

Combine that with the moldy, flooded evidence and lost DNA, scattered accusors or witnesses, and I don't see any way this situation can be salvaged.

Why on earth was Louisiana the only state in the union allowing traffic fines and court costs to fund the public defenders' offices?

Funding local public defenders' offices has been a problem across the nation. Louisiana is the only state that relies almost exclusively on local traffic-ticket revenue and parking fines — rather than a significant contribution from the state — to finance its low-income residents' constitutionally protected right to a lawyer.

This is just stupid, considering that Louisiana is one of the poorest states, per capita, in the country, and has a greater need for public defenders as a result. Last week, nola.com reported:

Citing state laws that require the Legislature to provide adequate funding for the program, Hunter issued subpoenas for state Senate President Donald Hines, D-Bunkie, House Speaker Joe Salter, D-Florien, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

I'm curious: If there are state laws requiring adequate funding from the Legislature, why wasn't that happening?

Oh. Lemme guess. This wouldn't by any chance be yet another example of the beautiful, harmonious, well-oiled Louisiana Legislative Machine, would it?

Almost 4,000 folks will no doubt be rejoicing that Louisiana has elected these people, as they walk away from whatever crimes they were accused of - whether they commited them or not.

Well done. Again.