District Attorney Jason Williams recently appeared in Parish Criminal District Court, inches from a person accused of murder for three pounds – or the weight of a half-gallon of milk – of marijuana.
That man, Donald Reaux, had seen it before in a courtroom: More than two decades earlier, Reaux had been convicted of federal bank robbery and shooting charges and sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison.
Williams tried to sway the jury to a guilty verdict, one that would banish Reaux from the streets of New Orleans for life. This is the second murder trial conducted by the public prosecutor this year, which began at the end of 2022: and a wave of random violence and death.
The response of the court watchers to the cases of Williams who is suing himself, shows the division of the majority who evaluate his time at work. Williams insists on helping him train the young prosecutors; critics say it’s a distraction from more important duties; The progressives say it’s just a way to slam the door on the owl boxes.
As New Orleans approaches the top of the country’s deadliest cities last year and the city was shaken by the growing violence and jump property crimeresidents and community leaders have turned a blind eye to the criminal justice system.
Addressing labor shortagesincreased response time and public trust privacy, the New Orleans Police Department has found itself in the bullseye of public anger. However, William did not run away from the pressing questions of whether his office is doing everything it can to stop the wave of murder, car theft and theft.
Today, the agency is in a tug of war that is playing out in chaos. City Council Meetingin private conversations about crime and in the vitriolic stew of social media.
On the one hand, Williams’ critics contend for felony charges. On the other hand, the progressives who pushed William into office opposed some of the tough-on-crime policies he implemented that deviated from his reformist stance.
Although the data is published within the legal system, some trends are clear over the past year: The district attorney’s office has increased its investigation department, leaving an experienced attorney to handle and accept more criminal cases last year than in 2021. He has used at least one law enforcement measure to improve sentencing for people who use guns during crimes.
And prosecutors are taking more defendants to trial, forcing 57% more jury trials in 2022 than in 2019, the year before the pandemic. the coronavirus stopped the power of the court.
“This office is treating our work like an emergency,” Williams said in an interview.
But regardless of the action taken, the voices of critics continue to rise. Some argue that Williams is asking too much and is kneeling himself by refusing to use a tool that could bring severe punishment.
Meanwhile, others question the impact any district attorney’s office can have on what’s happening on the streets of New Orleans.
At the beginning of 2022 – what will happen New Orleans’ bloodiest year in recent history – the district attorney’s office faced such allegations there are too many issuesmiss deadlines to bring charges at a clip eight times more than the leadership of Leon Cannizzaro.
The agency accepted about 61% of cases involving crimes, its records showed.
After a first owl in the winter saw the office increases the staff of the case study department, Williams in July appointed Andre Gaudin Jr., an experienced trial lawyer who heads the agency’s narcotics unit, to lead the investigation. Gaudin has clarified the research process, improved numbers.
Last year, investigators reviewed 5,264 cases involving serious charges, and 66% of those cases were accepted.
Begging & trials
Case records are the first step in the criminal justice system. Later will come the negotiations and the courts. The records show the district attorney’s office settled 1,796 cases with convictions last year — down from 2021, when the agency suspended jury trials and pushed for 1,970. transaction.
That statement caused a lot of speculation.
Rafael Goyeneche, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s police division, raised concerns that too many requests were being offered. He said the acceptance rates, although improving, only show what goes into the court’s pipeline, noting that it is important to “see what comes out.” the pipe, too.”
He argued that because people rarely plead guilty to being charged, it can result in convictions for minor crimes and minor convictions.
“It means they are back on the streets,” said Goyeneche.
But others pointed to the data as evidence that prosecutors are less willing to offer deals to people accused of violent crimes.
“I think part of the reason we had so many trials last year was because we didn’t get offers,” said Alexis Chernow, the litigation director for Orleans Public Defenders.
The district attorney’s office tried 69 cases last year, compared to 44 in 2019, agency data shows.
Although it is rare for district attorneys in large congregations to handle such cases, Williams has prosecuted some of his own, including the Reaux case, to ensure guilt among a young workforce. Agency statistics show that 45% of Agency staff have been there for at least one year.
Defense attorneys noted Williams’ courtroom persuasiveness. But Goyeneche argued that when Williams focuses on the courts, “it is not a proper use of (his) talents,” noting that the demands of court preparation can steal the attorney general from his other responsibilities. .
Throughout the past year, prosecutors, at the behest of Williams, have almost uniformly used a firearms penalty provision, an addition to firearms charges, if convicted. , to add at least five additional years to a person’s sentence.
“We will use (the provision) every time we can, if a violent criminal is going to be held accountable,” Williams said.
The provision of the punishment of firearms is not unlike the law of the common criminal Cannizzaro, which, upon request, also adds time to the sentence of a defendant. During his campaign for district attorney, Williams declared that he would not use the common law of the criminal.
Last year, the firearms penalty was used 587 times.
At the same time, the office has also welcomed the intervention of federal authorities in cases involving gun crimes: Last year, prosecutors of the state and the Eastern District of Louisiana did it. 61 requests to accept cases from the district attorney’s officean increase from 40 in 2021.
Minors have been charged
Defense attorneys interviewed for this article described the district attorney’s office as gradually backing away from more common prosecutions — arguing for higher bail, arguing for bond waivers for people accused of repeat offenses. and increased responsiveness to the news cycle.
Williams insists he’s not backing away from what he’s always promised – to focus on violent crime. But there is at least one departure from his campaign promises: Williams in 2022 increased the admission of juvenile defendants in adult criminal district court.
The agency transferred 18 juveniles charged with violent crimes to adult court in 2022, more than four times the number sent to the same court in 2021, according to the agency.
What can he do?
As much as the debate over the best way to reduce crime drags, some say the district attorney’s office has limited power to influence what happens outside the courthouse.
“For all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had a customer think about the consequences when they do it.” said defense attorney Michael Kennedy, who defended Donald Reaux, the man accused of murder in the midst of a marijuana robbery. “What we need to do is create opportunities to put people in the mindset that crime is not the only option.”
On Thursday, Reaux was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree murder. He will be sentenced to life in prison at an upcoming hearing.