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Newell: DA's domestic violence summit aims to improve outcomes through good old fashioned communication

Newell Normand
January 21, 2020 - 3:35 pm
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What is the strategy going forward to prosecute domestic abusers and ensure protections are in place for survivors of domestic violence? Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro had a summit last Friday with city councilmembers to get at some answers, and he joined Newell’s program Tuesday morning to report on how that meeting unfolded.

“It seems like you guys accomplished quite a bit,” Newell began. “It’s the first time in a long time that all these stakeholders in and around domestic violence were together all in one room talking about the pressing issues, difficulties and so forth. Tell us what your appreciation of the outcome is.”

“I think you’re correct,” the DA said. “I think it’s the first time in the history of this city where every single constituency got together in the same room and started listening and learning about some of the issues that we’re faced with. It brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, there were police there, judges, prosecutors, victim advocates, city health officials, councilmembers, the Sheriff, probation and parole… the summit lasted a little over three hours and we had a whole lot more to talk about. I believe it was a huge success, and what we left with was the agreement that we’d all continue to meet and improve on what we started last week. We also talked about some idea that have never been talked about with regard to these cases and what might alleviate some of the pressures on victims. Overall, it was a very very good summit. We didn’t solve all the problems, but it was a start that brought everyone together with the emphasis on the victims. Im very pleased and satisfied with what happened.”

“Where, in your mind, does this go bad, where we have this complete misunderstanding of how this actually works from a systems standpoint, and how each individual player is responsible for a small tidbit? It seems as though this ought to be about getting to the ‘why’ and not the ‘what,’” Newell continued.

“In many cases, there was a big misunderstanding that if the victim doesn’t want to prosecute, than you can go victimless,” Cannizzaro replied. “You have, in many cases, these body cameras that police wear on the scene and they can get the victim’s statement, and people ask, can’t you just present that, or present the 911 call? We tried to explain to them that in some cases, the 911 call can be admitted, hospital reports sometimes can be admitted, and the body cameras usually never are because they’re considered hearsay. That was the important thing, trying to resolve some of those problems. I think you could appreciate this - in these domestic violence cases, the victims names aren’t included in the police report. We know who the perpetrator is, the perpetrator and the victim certainly know each other, but it puts us at somewhat of a disadvantage, because in order to be effective, we have to make contact with the victims early on the keep them engaged and provide them services they may need. Those are some of the things we talked about.”

“Communication is the key,” Newell said. “Some of the low-hanging fruit, the misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about evidentiary issues, or what the prevailing case law may be relative to domestic violence is, that is ever changing and ever evolving. But everyone will be at the same level of understanding if you just increase communication.”

“Absolutely right,” Cannizzaro agreed. “The law in this area is very fluid, it’s not the same today as it was five or ten years ago. In many respects, it’s improved but there are still improvements we’d like to see. When we get people together in a room like we did last Friday, we are in a better position to have a show of force when we go to the Legislature in Baton Rouge and try to get things changed that can affect us in the courtrooms.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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