November 27, 2023 | | By: Ashlyn Brothers

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office has allowed nearly 1,300 felony defendants remain fugitives without having to forfeit their bonds after they failed to appear for scheduled court hearings, the Metropolitan Crime Commission said in a new report.

“This is a system failure,” MCC president Rafael Goyeneche said. “The police arrest, prosecutors accept charges and the defendant just walks away. No one is looking for these offenders.”

It is up to the district attorney’s office to initiate bond forfeiture proceedings against defendants who fail to return to court. The MCC said its analysis found 1.285 fugitives with active warrants but without bond forfeitures, after they absconded following arrests between 2018-2022.

The list included five fugitives booked with attempted murder, 17 accused of rape and other sex crimes, 56 arrested for robbery, 121 accused of battery or assault and 164 facing felony domestic violence cases. The list also includes 126 accused of weapons felonies and 19 with cases pending for failure to register as a sex offender.

The MCC said Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 331 is a tool to compel felony fugitives to appear in court by authorizing prosecutors to seek the forfeiture of a bond if a defendant fails to return to court. Not only does the threat of forfeited bonds incentivize the accused to return to court, but a portion of forfeited bonds can be retained by a district attorney’s office for use in its operating budget, which DA Jason Williams recently told the City Council needed to be increased.

Williams issued a statement thanking the MCC for its work identifying bond absconders and claiming a “historic backlog” had grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“OPDA has conducted a thorough review and has initiated proceedings on eligible cases,” Williams said.

Goyeneche said that number is around 50 cases out of the 1,285.

“Many of these cases are beyond that 60-day window,” Goyeneche said. “That doesn’t mean that they can’t still be arrested. They can. There’s a warrant out for their arrest, so if they get stopped by the police, the police will execute that warrant. But no one is looking for them right now.”

Attorney and Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said, “Obviously, this should’ve been done on a continuum from 2022. The upshot of doing this big (number) of bond forfeitures all at one time is going to overload the system and put pressure on everybody, from bondsmen to police to the courts to the jail.”