Is Louisiana Broken?

Is Louisiana Broken?

 

This is a blog post that will require much amendment and addition. Sadly.  The headlines of just this last year…. Tell a sad tale. From an official thrown in jail for scoffing public record requests and court orders … to SCOTUS by per curiam opinion overturning yet another Louisiana criminal conviction “because the Louisiana courts have proven to be repeat offenders; they repeatedly fail to appropriately enforce prosecutors’ Brady obligations” ….. to Grand Isle…where it seems half the town’s government is under indictment.

Just today, June 30, 2016, a news report: The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended two 18th Judicial District Court judges due to misconduct.  Judge Free.  And Judge Best.  One for relieving a convicted sex offender of some probation time due to a personal relationship. The other for engaging in ex parte communications with alleged victims.

Sheriff Ackal of Iberia Parish, has been indicted for violation of federal civil rights laws.  “The case against Ackal stems from the alleged beatings of inmates who were detained while awaiting trials. Ackal allegedly ordered other officers to carry out attacks in the jail’s chapel because there are no security cameras in there. He is charged with two counts of conspiracy against rights and two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law, and faces up to 10 years in prison for each count. Nine deputies have already pleaded guilty to related charges.”  see following link.  After meeting with the prosecutor, hE not only was recorded making anti-Semitic comments about the federal prosecutor, he apparently threatened to shoot him between his eyes.

[UPDATE  November, 2016. Sheriff Ackal was found not guilty on all four counts by a federal jury trial.  The investigation did reveal a lot of what Ackal describes as “rogue” cops who beat inmates and planted narcotics on suspects]

November, 2016, edit to add  Louisiana Supreme Court overturned a death sentence in the Crawford case, not because of a paucity of evidence (and there was), not because of suspect pathology reports/testimony, not because Cox argued to the jury that Jesus commanded the death sentence, not because Cox wrote a memo to the department of probation and parole, demanding Crawford suffer as much as humanly possible, but it was overturned because Blacks were systematically excluded from the jury.  The trial took place in the district with the most death sentences per capita than any other county/parish in the nation, some 77% of them Black defendants, tried by a prosecutor who obtained 1/3 of the death sentences between 2011 and 2015, and who, after much national publicity, did not run for district attorney last term.  Notably, a lost cause monument all but blocks the entrance to that courthouse

A civil lawsuit (though oddly and inexplicably, no criminal action by local law enforcement) is still is making its way, at the speed of a snail stuck in quicksand, against caddo parish commission and commissioners, for flaunting the Louisiana constitution and its own home rule charter, voting for themselves against the dictates of law a generous retirement fund, with up to sixteen percent taxpayer matching funds, raises, and a $15,000 annual travel fund.  Interestingly, an elected official from another parish got a taste of the law for doing the same type of thing… (See link above)…yet in caddo?  Seems different rules prevail.  The commission didn’t stop dipping into public fisc for retirement until after the second letter scolding them from the Louisiana legislative auditor office

Nevermind the shameful manner the Louisiana legislature ignores the funding crisis of the indigent defender offices. I’ve watched  in court   As judges advise indigent defendants of their right to a lawyer, free of charge, if they cannot afford one and turn around in the next breath and order the poor to pay the indigent defender office as much as $1,000.

And, once again, another death penalty conviction is up at the Supreme Court out of Louisiana because yet again, prosecutors withheld material evidence from the defense.  Of course they did.  Per the linked article:

“IN A LOUISIANA case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for a death row inmate named David Brown are asking the justices to put a stop to what the outspoken jurist and author Alex Kozinski has called an “epidemic” of prosecutorial misconduct. One of the most common forms of such misconduct is the withholding of evidence that might exonerate or mitigate the guilt of a defendant. Failure to turn it over, according to the court’s seminal 1963 decision Brady v. Maryland, is a violation of due process. Brown’s lawyers argue that nothing less is at stake in their client’s case than the future of Brady and the right to due process in criminal proceedings.

Although prosecutors have bristled at Kozinski’s charge, there is certainly plenty of evidence to back up his claim. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project at the University of Michigan Law School, 933 of the nearly 1,800 exonerations to date involve official misconduct by prosecutors, police, or other government officials. Thirty-five of those exonerations come from the state of Louisiana alone, where prosecutors have a dismal record of complying with their legal obligations. According to Pace University School of Law professor Bennett Gershman, a leading expert on prosecutorial misconduct, many of Louisiana’s prosecutors “have an incomplete and even warped understanding of the Brady rule, and their enforcement of their Brady duty is deficient.” In Kozinski’s estimation, it is the duty of the courts to solve the misconduct problem. “Only judges can put a stop to it.”

For more on the brilliant jurist, Alex Kozinski, read this article by Slate and more at this LA Times article, which also links to the youtube video of oral argument.  (Yeah, the Ninth Circuit now uploads oral arguments to a youtube channel!).

[update   SCOTUS declined to hear Brown’s case and the Louisiana court ruling which overturned a lower court’s reversal of the death penalty, now stands]

Not Louisiana courts: they never get it right under Brady. They give prosecutors  judicial license to do as they wish, without regard for the law. The courts here made up their own rule: defense must show the verdict would have been different had the prosecution not violated due process   (Worse, some Louisiana judges treat a Brady violation as a mere civil discovery transgression and apply a harmless error standard).

Brady v. Maryland has been around. A long time. No sitting judge can not know it.  Here is the holding:

“‘The suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment,’ Justice William Douglas wrote for the majority.”

The test is this:  “Evidence is material under Brady if it creates “a ‘reasonable probability’ of a different result.” Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 434 (1995). “A reasonable probability does not mean that the defendant ‘would more likely than not have received a different verdict with the evidence,’ only that the likelihood of a different result is great enough to ‘undermine[] confidence in the outcome of the trial.” Smith v. Cain, 132 S. Ct. 627, 630 (2012) (quoting Kyles, 514 U.S. at 434). To say that the undisclosed information wasn’t material, a court must conclude that the other evidence was so overwhelming that, even if the withheld evidence had been presented to the jury, there would be no “reasonable probability” that it would have acquitted. This standard isn’t satisfied if “the State’s argument offers a reason that the jury could have disbelieved [the undisclosed evidence], but gives us no confidence that it would have done so.” Id.”

U.S. v. Olsen, No. 10-36063 (9th Cir. 2013)(Kozinski, J., dissenting). Sadly, too many judges get the test  dead wrong.

What happened to the judicial system here?  At one time, Louisiana had brilliant jurists.  True jurists.  Now?  It seems the bench is filled with Just for oil and gas industries and mischievous prosecutors.

Louisiana:  Broke and squandering public fisc and taking from the poor, Constitution be damned, for public misdeeds….  And worse, monetizing justice for self interest   The nation’s incarceration capital, Louisiana, profitized every aspect of criminal justice  it’s just another derivative market to line pockets

Until we take the profit out of so called criminal justice, nothing will change. (P.s.  Someone needs to ensure the DDA gets this DOJ memo)
The DOJ gets it.  Finally  after Ferguson  … But how can the DOJ possibly monitor every aspect of Louisiana’s “justice” system?  It has a nation to run.

Meanwhile, our legislative auditor looked into excessive fine enforcement across Louisiana towns back in 2007…. and did nothing.  read the report and know that the legislature…did NOTHING. It allows these backwoods Boss Hogg backwood justice courts (only Louisiana and Ohio have “mayor’s courts”) AKA mayor’s courts to run roughshod over folks.  I haven’t read it yet, but a Louisiana lawyer wrote a book detailing the constitutional failure of these mayor’s courts,

available for about $4.00 here.  Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.28.19 PMThis is the book’s synopsis:

The Mayor’s Court is Louisiana’s most numerous type of court, with about 250 of these courts across the state, yet very little appears to be known about them. Out of the fifty states, only Louisiana and Ohio still use these courts. Under this system of informal tribunals, a town mayor essentially acts as prosecutor, judge, and jury to enforce municipal ordinances. There is no requirement that a mayor presiding over one of these courts should possess a law degree or have any legal training. Likewise, the inherent duty of mayors to raise revenue creates a potential bias that could cause mayors to convict defendants solely for financial gain. Although their existence is vested under the Louisiana Constitution, there is very limited statutory guidance or procedural safeguards to govern these courts. Many of the few attempts that have been made to interpret laws governing these courts have been misguided and have lead to incorrect court decisions. As a result, the possibility exists for defendants before these courts to be unfairly convicted. This book provides an overview of the mayor’s courts in Louisiana and examines a few due process concerns that arise from these courts’ existence.

A woman spent SIX YEARS fighting an unconstitutional stop in one little Louisiana town that rakes in $$$ with unconstitutional practices.

Contradictorily to its  “Excessive Fines” report on mayors courts, linked above, the Louisiana legislative auditor encouraged district courts to be more aggressive in collecting fines and court costs, which the auditor estimated to exceed $100 Milliom a year.  Gretna got the message.  It is now the arrest capital of the nation.

Louisiana. I. Am. Looking at you. The incarceration capital of the world.

Louisiana — Highest sales taxes in the nation.

Shreveport — highest property taxes in the state.

Every town here rapes its citizenry and visitors. Taxing the hell out of everyone, even its poorest, with fines, penalties, court costs. Why? To line city coffers so it can contract with favored ones? What kind of government does that? A bad one. A very bad one.

A recent article exposed the excessive practices of Gretna, Louisiana. Gretna police previously made horrific headlines during Katrina, firing on folks who attempted to get out of flooded New Orleans by walking across the bridge go Gretna. Gretna police stopped them. With force. Now Gretna made headlines, again.  This time for its excessive policing and fine practices, imposed on its own residents. It is the arrest capital of America.

“An expensive, years-long entanglement with this [Gretna] system can begin with an alleged infraction as minor as turning without a blinker. Eric Cado, a 25-year-old black man, was pulled over in November 2011 in Jefferson Parish for not wearing a seatbelt. After a series of missed court dates, unpaid fines, subsequent warrants for his arrest and a day in jail, Cado owed $1,200 plus the $500 bond for his release, which he finally paid off in 2014.”

And how can DOJ effect change, when the supreme court itself  Facilitates police abuse?

Just recently, Justice Thomas … Gutted the Fourth Amendment, applying a whole new test…that contravenes fifty years of precedence since Terry v Ohio, in the startling ruling of Utah v Strieff.

And while the courts and prosecutors sit on their hands, another man is shot dead in Louisiana.

It’s time.  Time to completely decriminalize minor traffic and other infractions. Expired plates. Expired Motor vehicle inspection stickers. Walking in the street, even when there’s no functional properly maintained sidewalk.  Loud music.  Simple trespass.  Loitering. etc.

They’re all just excuses to profit off of others minor mistakes. To hassle people and to kill black people. Just take a picture or write a report, and send a ticket in the mail.

As discussed in another blog post, Louisiana can’t or just won’t regulate oil and gas. But it can manage to criminalize the most innocuous minor of behaviors.

Not for enjoyment,

Kathryn S. Bloomfield

p.s.  Regarding the featured image:  I found it via http://www.writerscafe.org/writing/jasonx72/247709/  After a Google search for copyright free images of lady liberty crying.  I cannot confirm it is copyright free. I provide the source I used, but do not know if that is the owner. If it is not copyright free, I will immediately take it down.

 

 

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