NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)—Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams is sharing his thoughts on the court’s decision to defer jury trials until March.
According to the group VOTE, people with felony convictions in Orleans Parish have been excluded from jury pools and denied the opportunity to serve on a jury for more than a year.
In 2021, Louisiana passed Act 121, which expands the jury pool to include people with felony convictions once it has been five years since they completed their sentences.
In a letter written to VOTE’s attorney, Chief Judge Robin Pittman wrote that the summons normally sent out for jury selection are being deferred for the remainder of January and February. There was no further explanation given.
According to Williams, he was not aware of the summons’ exclusion and believes it needs to be corrected.
“We were hoping it could be corrected in less time than a month because we have cases that were set for trial,” Williams said. “My focus and the focus of my entire office right now is working with the victims.”
WGNO legal analyst and attorney Cliff Cardone says this will be a setback for the district attorney’s office.
“Jason Williams has to be frustrated when the public is crying out for movement through the justice system as quickly and rapidly as possible to incarcerate people who deserve to be incarcerated,” Cardone said.
The district attorney says this delay may discourage those who have found themselves involved in the criminal justice system, possibly waiting yet again.
“Waiting again because Orleans Parish suspended jury trials longer than any other parish in the state [because of the COVID-19 pandemic],” Williams said. “If you’ve been harmed by a violent offender, you want a resolution, too, and you deserve to get to that resolution.”
Cardone says a district attorney would prefer a jury consisting of people with no felony convictions.
“Because those people, I think would be, perhaps, inclined to vote for the criminal defendant, and as a criminal defendant, I would want people who were convicted in the past,” the attorney said.
Cardone believes there is a possibility cases may get thrown out of court because they are not tried within a certain time period, but Williams say he is hopeful this pause will not affect prior or future convictions.
A spokeswoman for the Orleans Public Defenders sent WGNO the following statement:“We are troubled by the ongoing deficiencies in the current jury system. Despite legislation passed in 2021, countless New Orleanians have been wrongfully purged from jury pools and denied the opportunity to lawfully serve on a jury. New Orleans juries remain woefully unrepresentative of our entire community and far from equitable.”