Newell: Procedural flaw in juvenile bond hearings putting us at risk

Collectively, the courts are giving a wide berth to violent juvenile offenders

Newell Normand
October 08, 2019 - 6:06 pm

One crime victim in New Orleans said, "If you've done heavy crimes at 14, right after you get out of juvie, you're probably headed to a real career." This quote speaks to serious issues in our community and seems to be indicative of a lack of a consistent and persistent approach to juvenile enforcement. Newell invited New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro into the studio Tuesday morning to roll back some of the layers of confusion regarding the unacceptable rate of recidivism in youth crimes.

"You and I have had this discussion many times," Newell began, "about this lack of a consistent and persistent approach, and what it ultimately means to the safety and security of our community at large. It seems as though it continues to happen and there's no reasonable explanation for it; frustration has to be growing!"

"There's no question about that, you're absolutely correct," the DA replied. "We've seen it in the past several months, and it's been indicated to us that we can affect a reduction in juvenile crime in this city, but only when the juvenile judges are steadfast, determined and consistent with their detention orders for the most dangerous repeat offenders. When we don't see that happening, we see that the juvenile crime problem escalates. And that's exactly what we have seen recently with several juveniles in this city."

"Just recently, another occurrence - These carjacking teenage kids - this is a problem, a real overt act, one that's going to lead to someone getting seriously hurt, or dare I say even murdered at some point. Perp or victim, none of that is any good," Newell said.

 That's exactly the scenario of Zelda Townsend, a victim of an auto burglary," Cannizzaro answered. "She goes out to confront the person in her car, the person in her car is in fact armed - he's told to shoot, he shoots, striking her, killing her, and wounding her husband. Another scenario happened where a juvenile goes into an automobile armed with a gun, the owner of the automobile comes out there, he too is armed with a gun and he holds the juvenile offender until the police can arrive. They take him into custody, they bring him to juvenile court. A juvenile judge has a detention hearing and the the juvenile judge decides not to release him, not only because of this particular burglary for which he has been apprehended on the scene by the victim, but because of a series of other crimes for which he had been involved. Carjacking, auto theft, aggravated assault, a hit-and-run. A judge orders him detained, and essentially eight days later, another judge releases him! And then, from September 12 to September 19, this particular juvenile, along with others, is involved in at least 11 additional crimes!"   

"Judge Mark Doherty was the one who said, this perp is a bad individual and he needs to stay incarcerated for now until we unwind all of this to see what he's ultimately responsible for. And Judge Tammy Stewart is the one who ordered their release. What information came to Judge Tammy Stewart to where she felt this information was compelling enough to essentially rescind the order of Judge Doherty?" Newell asked.

"When you look at this individual's history of violent criminal activity...  if you go back from April of 2019 to September, this individual is involved, with a group of individuals, in 17 separate events from April to September 8th, and then from September 12th to September 21st he's involved in 11 additional crimes. Again it seems to me no brainer to say this individual should not be on the streets. Someone over there has got to say enough is enough. And I'm not necessarily saying that you should lock up all teen offenders and that's the solution. I've never said that to the juvenile crime problem. What I do want to see is that when young people go astray, I want them to be put in a position where they can receive the education, the counseling, the rehabilitation services that they need. And until I can be shown that these programs exist in New Orleans with the capacity and success to handle it - there remain some really violent and very remorseless teen offenders for whom detention is appropriate."

"Doesn't Judge Stewart have everything available to her that Judge Doherty had in the initial bail hearing?" Newell asked.

"I would imagine that since this case went to her, she would. She would have his delinquent history and it would be available to her. She would know his background, she would be familiar."

"So we're just going to release kids that pull guns on people? That's what this court collectively is saying." Newell continued. "This seems to me be a procedural flaw... it seems to me that this court is basically saying 'this is okay if they pull a gun, if they carjacked people, they spend eight days or ten days in jail and we're going to let him go,' and we're going to put them in the same situation that they were in before and you know we're all better for it? Obviously not, but it seems that what the court believes!"

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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