Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Processing of Criminal Cases in Louisiana

On Friday, the Innocence Project team observed arraignments in Jefferson Parish. While it is true that there are a number of differences between New York’s criminal justice system and Louisiana’s, I was struck by the number of similarities between our systems. We watched as defendants consented to waive their right to a speedy trial, similar to the practice in Criminal Court, Queens and Suffolk County. The majority of clients were indigent (qualified for public defender services) and people of color. Most of the cases were drug related. It appeared as though the defense attorneys met their clients for the first time just moments before arraignment. The clients played a passive role in the arraignment, standing to the side of the podium where the prosecutor and defense attorney stood. The defense attorney explained the plea to the client on the spot, while the prosecutors bantered with the judge and court officers an arm’s length away.

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