By Arielle Brumfield | WDSU | March 16, 2023
Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams has invoked the habitual offender statute for violent offenders for the first time this week.
The habitual offender statute is a tool Williams said he wouldn’t use, but now, more than two years into his administration, he’s backpedaled on yet another campaign promise.
Williams filed an intent to use the statute Wednesday in the case involving 33-year-old Orlando Brown.
Brown is accused of a violent sex offense crime and has four prior felony convictions.
Earlier this week in court, Brown refused a plea deal offered from the DA, which means his case will now go to trial.
Rafael Goyeneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, says this statute is a valid tool that should only be used with proper justification.
“It’s not the fact that the statute is being misapplied, it has to be applied on a case-by-case basis; based on facts, evidence, and the danger that the offender poses to the community,” Goyeneche said. “So you have a sex offender with four prior felony convictions that I think it’s justification for using it.”
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office released this statement to WDSU:
“The habitual offender statute was invoked in this case because it was warranted. As the trial was scheduled to occur between trainings, the lead prosecutor for this section of court followed appropriate steps to seek approval to invoke the statute. That request was approved by DA Jason Williams and First Assistant Ned McGowan on Monday.
“While we will refrain from discussing the exact details of an active case that is slated to go to trial, when an individual is charged with acting violently in this city and has a history of violence, the length of time they face and ultimately serve in prison should reflect their violent careless disregard for humanity. However, in no instance, this one included, will approval to invoke the habitual offender statute be granted haphazardly or absent a sufficient evidentiary basis. Regular trainings will be held on this important tool, with one scheduled within the next week.”
The habitual offenders statute has many critical of DA Williams, as some argue it is an unjust law.
The Orleans Public Defenders wrote in a statement:
“There’s a reason why people fighting to end mass incarceration in Louisiana have long called out “three strikes, you’re out” laws. They are unjust, used inequitably, eliminate judicial power, and simply aren’t necessary. The law already allows for significant sentences on the charges proposed for use by the District Attorney. Using the multiple bill as a threat in proceedings only furthers the inequities and harms in our legal system.”
Goyeneche says the statute is a resource all prosecutors should be able to use.
“If police are going to be successful in taking violent and repeat offenders off the street, the district attorney’s office has to be able to impose consequences,” Goyeneche said. “That’s their job and you cannot do your job unless you use all the available tools.”