Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro called a city ordinance that lowered penalties for pot possession “stupid” during a talk at a meeting of the Rotary Club of New Orleans on Wednesday.He does know that some of our legislators have been trying to push statewide decriminalization for years now and making only headway, right? He has to know that. He should know since the Louisiana District Attorneys Association played a role in undermining the last serious attempt in 2015. The DAs are loathe to give up any coercive tool they can use to beat pleas and testimony out of people as Cannizzaro himself demonstrated just this week.
Speaking in response to a Rotarian’s question, Cannizzaro suggested that both marijuana users and dealers will flock to the city in response to the ordinance, which made first-offense marijuana possession punishable by a $40 fine.
“Stupid legislation, that’s all I can say about that. If you wanted to change the law, go to Baton Rouge and make it uniform throughout the state of Louisiana. Don’t have a special provision which decriminalizes or lessens the penalty for marijuana, a crime, in the city of New Orleans,” Cannizzaro said.
New Orleans victims advocates are against the use of material witness warrants to force victims of domestic abuse and sex crimes to testify in court.This year the DAs are standing in the way of more substantial criminal justice reform for similarly bullheaded reasons.
However, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says in some rare cases, it's necessary to put a victim or witness in jail to get a dangerous criminal or sex offender off the streets.
"If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail, for eight days, in order to...keep the rapist off of the street, for a period of years and to prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I'm going to do that," Cannizzaro said.
Tuesday, the judicial watchdog group "Courtwatch NOLA" released a report, taking issue with the use of material witness warrants.
"What kind of picture this paints for folks coming victims that are scared and want to come forward, to call police and talk to law enforcement if they know they are going to be incarcerated," Courtwatch NOLA Executive Director Simone Levine said. "We think this is a real disincentive."
Louisiana sends more nonviolent people to prison, per-capita, than any of its neighbor states. And this difference is not driven by crime. Louisiana has a similar crime rate to South Carolina and Florida, for example, but sends nonviolent offenders to prison at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida.Leon and pals want to be able to arrest you for holding weed, throw you in jail if you are afraid to testify, and keep you in jail for a long time for the crimes you might have committed other than those you have actually been convicted of. All of this flies in the face of public sentiment, by the way, which appears to be lining up in favor of reform.
When they hear this fact, the district attorneys balk. They say that many of those people have pled down from violent charges; they say that others have committed additional crimes in the past and therefore should be considered dangerous. They make these excuses and claims without data in an attempt to distract from the task force's comprehensive and data-driven assessment of our state's criminal justice system.
Large majorities favor three criminal justice reform proposals included in the 2017 Louisiana Survey: Shorter sentences for people convicted of non-violent crimes (75 percent); more alternatives to prison – such as drug treatment or rehabilitation programs – for people convicted of non-violent offenses (86 percent); and abandoning mandatory minimum sentences in favor of more flexibility for judges to determine sentences (72 percent).Maybe the sentiment of the "large majorities" will prevail in the legislature despite the hard line taken by Cannizzaro and the DAs. But you never know with those guys. They are pretty famous for passing "stupid legislation" in their own right.