NOLA council members want DA’s office to change material witness warrants policy

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NEW ORLEANS — Thursday morning, the New Orleans City Council heard from the authors of a report that says District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office requested the arrest of 15 victims of crime who did not testify in their cases.

The group Court Watch NOLA released the findings that also include a variety of procedural evaluations regarding judges at the Orleans Parish Criminal Courthouse.

Of the 15 material witness warrants issued, six victims were arrested.  They remained in jail anywhere from one to more than 100 days.  But at least one of the victims who remained in jail more than just a few days was also accused of a parole violation which figured into his time behind bars.

According to Court Watch NOLA, one of the victims arrested was a woman who prosecutors wanted to testify in her rape and battery case.  Investigators with Court Watch NOLA did not know why the woman failed to appear in court.

The group made the appearance in front of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee.  Also appearing was NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison.

Harrison spelled out a big part of the problem for his detectives when it comes to solving shootings when the victim survived the attack.

“Very few people tell us who shot them,” Harrison said.  He also said that most people involved in shootings in New Orleans know each other.

But the council members were concerned that the DA’s office is going too far to get people to testify, especially in the case where the rape victim was arrested.

Previously, a spokesman for the DA’s office released a statement about the use of material witness warrants to convince victims to testify or risk going to jail.  The statement calls the Court Watch NOLA report “sloppy” and says the DA’s office is focused on larger numbers, like the more than 55 people murdered and 200 shot in the city so far in 2017.

Court Watch NOLA made some suggestions to the council that it hopes the DA’s office will adopt.  First, the group thinks that prosecutors should not arrest victims of rape or domestic abuse if they don’t testify in court.  Also, the group wants the DA’s office to spell out a protocol for using the material witness warrants in future cases.