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February 29, 2012

Retired Louisiana Chief Justice says "We need reforms to increase confidence in the justice system"

Pascal F. Calogero Jr., who is a retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice now in a private law practice, has this new op-ed expressing deep concerns about the administration of the criminal justice system in the Bayou. Here are excerpts:

Our justice system makes two promises to its citizens: a fundamentally fair trial and an accurate result. As Justice Cochran of Texas' highest criminal court observed, "If either of those two promises are not met, the criminal justice system itself falls into disrepute and may eventually be disregarded."

The Orleans Parish district attorney has recognized the burden of past cases -- where prosecutors have withheld evidence -- "hangs around the neck of our criminal justice system like an anchor" and "cripples the effectiveness of our criminal justice system, and, ultimately, makes the streets of New Orleans less safe."

Indeed, an Innocence Project New Orleans report found "favorable evidence was withheld from nine of the 36 (25 percent) men sentenced to death in Orleans Parish from 1973-2002.  However, this is not just about wrongful convictions under past administrations: John Thompson, Curtis Kyles, Shareef Cousin, Dan Bright -- and as the U.S. Supreme Court recently recognized -- Juan Smith.  It involves cases prosecuted today, with Brady violations in the cases of Michael Anderson and Jamal Tucker.

I still believe the majority of prosecutors are fair-minded, but it is no longer possible to call these violations rare.  The problem is not rogue prosecutors; it's a system that heavily incentivizes the winning of convictions at any cost and provides no penalty for breaking rules.  To ensure that citizens have access to fair trials and accurate results, we must work together to promote accountability and transparency.

Public confidence in the prosecutor and police officer are essential to a functioning criminal justice system.  Confidence is necessary to ensure citizens report crime, cooperate as witnesses and participate as jurors.  The Department of Justice recently found that the New Orleans Police Department "employs practices that could facilitate and hide constitutional violations of criminal suspect's rights."  Prosecutors must lead by example and work with law enforcement to promote respect for the Constitution.  Where corners of the Constitution are cut, the circle of trust necessary to ensure a functioning justice system is broken....

Louisiana has a history of Brady violations.  This is not because Louisiana has more rogue prosecutors.  Rather, we have failed to provide tools and guidance to prevent these problems.  Enacting reforms will prevent wrongful convictions and restore citizens' confidence in our justice system.

February 29, 2012 at 01:58 PM | Permalink


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unfortunatly in places like new orleans the ONLY way your ever gonna get even an appearance of fair and just is to move in and CAN everyone involved from the beat cops on the street to the DA's and Defense Attorney to judges and start over with an entire NEW group.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 29, 2012 3:12:03 PM

While I don't know that I subscribe to rodsmith's remedy, he's got it nailed about Louisiana. By an admittedly small margin, it edges out Illinois as historically the most corrupt in the country. Its present governor seems to be a notable exception, however.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 29, 2012 5:12:26 PM

Jindal is a bad as any politician, Democrat and Republican. Are you blind or enamored of conservatives?

Posted by: albeed | Feb 29, 2012 6:21:18 PM

The latter. But the reason I exempted Jihdal is simply that I have no evidence that he's done anything corrupt. If there is any, I'm all ears.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 29, 2012 6:46:15 PM

Simple reform proposal: End all lawless, unfair, self-dealt immunities of the prosecutor and judge of Louisiana. Pass a constitutional amendment. Otherwise the US Supreme Court will overturn any such statute.

Their activities qualify for strict liability (the sole tool of the law is punishment, meant to hurt people, more dangerous than making dynamite in a residential neighborhood, or keeping large cats in one's apartment). They should be held to professional standards of due care. If they face the more proper strict liability and exemplary damages, government would be bankrupted right away, just as it seeks to plunder and bankrupt all productive entities.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 1, 2012 12:16:39 AM

DAB: "Rather, we have failed to provide tools and guidance to prevent these problems."

DJB: I respectively disagree.

The concept of a prosecutor seeking justice in our courts is not rocket science.

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady | Mar 1, 2012 5:43:42 AM

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