By Elizabeth Kuebel | WDSU | March 9, 2023
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams is now considering using the habitual offender law in certain instances involving violent offenders. It reverses course on a campaign pledge.
Williams says using the law could be possible after a comprehensive review and approval process. At one time, he vowed not to use it.
In a statement sent to WDSU, the DA wrote: “To be abundantly clear, the Multiple Offender Statute has historically been misused on low-level nonviolent offenders with absolutely no public safety benefit. However, when used correctly & fairly, it is a lawful, powerful tool to ensure violent offenders are held accountable appropriately. In the midst of an unparalleled crime surge, it is imperative that we have all pathways available to retain a meaningful say in what the sentences should be for violent offenders. To ensure equity and fairness, there will be multiple trainings for our lawyers on the law and its application as well a comprehensive review and approval process for its use.”
Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino breaks down the law.
“It’s a statute passed by the Louisiana legislature that allows DAs to charge a violation of essentially a three strikes law, that then will make mandatory minimum sentences applicable to the offender, as well as enhanced maximum sentences,” Ciolino said.
Basically, it allows for stiffer punishments for repeat felon offenders.
Williams also previously vowed not to try juveniles as adults. The most recent decision got a mixed reaction from different groups.
The Orleans Public Defenders wrote in a statement: “The multiple bill statute is inequitable, unjust and inherently racist. It has historically been abused to secure guilty pleas from innocent people and intimidate others from exercising their right to trial. This policy doesn’t make anyone any safer. It simply continues New Orleans’ problematic history of mass incarceration and erodes the community’s trust in the legal system.”
However, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission called the statute a valid tool.
“The fact that he is utilizing this is, I think, a reflection of him realizing that he owes the responsibility to enforce the laws of Louisiana for the safety of the people of New Orleans, and it took him two years to get to the point that he realized that this is what he needed to do,” said Rafael Goyeneche with MCC.