Council resolution to ask New Orleans D.A. to stop jailing victims

Chris Miller
February 07, 2019 - 9:03 am

The New Orleans City Council today will discuss a resolution asking the District Attorney to cease jailing sexual assault and domestic violence victims on material witness warrants to compel them to testify. 

The resolution cites a report from the watchdog Court Watch NOLA that said three victims were arrested on material witness warrants in 2017, down from seven the year before. 

In the past, D.A. Leon Cannizzaro has defended it as a means to get reluctant witnesses to cooperate, but critics say that only makes it harder to get people to report crimes. 

"It looks terrible to put a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse in jail," said political analyst Clancy DuBos.

DuBos says there could be a political reason -- councilman Jason Williams has already announced his candidacy for D.A. in 2020.

"If this is going to be a political decision, the D.A.'s going to have a problem, because nobody wants to run on a platform of putting victims in jail," DuBos said.

Cannizzaro has not announced yet if he'll seek reelection. The District Attorney's office on Wednesday evening released the following statement on the council resolution:

"The District Attorney’s office is not empowered to incarcerate anyone. Judicial approval is required for any material witness warrant requested by this office or by defense counsel, in accordance with state law. Having recently reviewed our case files from the past five years, we are aware of just 28 persons taken into custody on a material witness warrant in more than 85,000 cases. Of that number, 21 were involved in cases of murder or attempted murder; two involved sex crimes. In each instance, the witness testimony was deemed critical to preventing a dangerous offender from walking free to victimize others.

"We discourage the City Council from adopting a public policy that will greatly embolden domestic abusers, child abusers and sex criminals to intimidate, threaten, harass and coerce their victims and witnesses into staying silent. The adoption of this policy by the City Council is misguided and will have dangerous unintended effects. It will empower domestic abusers and sexual predators to avoid responsibility for their heinous criminal acts."

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