By Natasha Robin | WVUE | March 24, 2021
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – In his first month in office, Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams dismissed 415 criminal cases. Of those cases, more than 800 charges were dismissed.
“It’s alarming. I haven’t seen numbers like this even after Katrina,” says Rafael Goyeneche.
Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission says his office keeps track of the dismissals through the court. He says the dismissal numbers have risen to a disturbing level.
“As of March 22nd, there were over 700 felony cases dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office and 114 of those were violent felony cases,” says Goyeneche.
“We rely upon national best practices for prosecutors as most offices do,” says D.A. Jason Williams.
Williams says he made a commitment to lay a foundation for prosecution of violent crimes and correct the sins of the past.
“The previous D.A. had a goal or a quota of accepting 90 percent of accepting all cases received from the NOPD or the State Police, so in New Orleans we were accepting almost all cases which mean our current backlog included cases from the COVID-19 shutdown,” says Williams.
Goyeneche disagrees with Williams’ numbers concerned with the previous D.A.
“So the overall acceptance rate in the D.A.’s office for 2020 was 71 percent. I don’t know where he got his numbers from but we got ours from the clerk of courts records,” says Goyeneche.
FOX 8 obtained a list of the first 415 dismissed cases, some involved multiple charges.
Williams sys his office looks at each case individually and says the reason for the dismissals vary.
“It looks at whether or not there was any racial profiling or whether or not there was any racial bias that played into the arrest. It looks at the evidence or lack thereof,” says Williams.
According to the D.A.’s list, the reasons include, ‘victim refuses to prosecute’ and ‘D.A. diversion’, among others.
Two charges were dismissed for ‘evidence problems’ and 379 charges were dismissed for the ‘interest of justice’.
“There is no legal definition in the code of criminal procedure or the revised statute for ‘in the interest of justice’, and if it’s not defined in the law, but it’s a category that this District Attorney is classifying half of his dismissals, than he needs to define what that is,” says Goyeneche.
Williams told FOX 8, the ‘interest of justice’ category is based on the facts of the case and criminal record of the accused.
65 percent of the cases dismissed were more than two years old, while 55 percent were narcotics related. Many of them were felonies.
“Yeah, but simple possession of cocaine is a felony. Enhanced marijuana cases could be a felony. Having a prescription that your doctor gave you several years ago in your car, could be a felony,” say Williams.
Williams says not all felony cases should be accepted.
“The police are making arrests when they can get there, and they present the evidence to the District Attorney’s Office. If the DA’s office is declining those cases or dismissing those cases, not based on evidentiary issues, but in the interest of justice, then there’s a breakdown in communication,” says Goyeneche.
“At the end of the day, what we want to be happening, especially dealing with this COVID-19 backlog, is we want to be focused on lions and bears and not rabbits and squirrels,” says Williams.
In his first month, Williams says his office accepted a little more than 200 cases. He says most of them are weapons related.
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