by Lee Harville
Recently the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office and the entire criminal justice process in Caddo Parish has come under harsh criticism from local and national media. There have been questions concerning the use of the death penalty in Caddo Parish. There also have been questions concerning the removal of blacks from juries in Caddo Parish.
No matter how you view this coverage, one thing is clear. The next Caddo Parish District Attorney must be a leader. He or she must demand a staff and an office that is objective, open, and transparent in dealing with the public, with victims, with law enforcement, with defense attorneys, and with defendants.
Previously, I have stated that I would employ an open, detailed, and regular procedure when deciding whether to seek the death penalty. The same objective process will be used when deciding how to prosecute cases. This process will ensure that there is no rush to judgment. It will ensure that back-door deals by connected attorneys do not occur. It will allow law enforcement, victims, and defendants to see the process that leads to results. This should lessen the view that prosecution of cases is an arbitrary process that stretches on for unnecessarily long periods of time.
There will be training and policies for dealing with law enforcement, with victims, and with defense attorneys. Case status letters or e-mails will be used to keep victims aware of the status of cases. Law enforcement will have regular and set channels for following up on cases. Victims’ advocacy group, the law enforcement community, and community groups will be allowed to participate in regularly scheduled forums to express their concerns, criticisms, and success stories.
Prosecutors will be trained in the criminal process. Certainly, current prosecutors know what they are doing. It takes a certain level of dedication and willingness to serve as a prosecutor. However, there must be some training in how to correct the perceptions that many have of the current Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office and of the justice system in Caddo Parish.
The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office must review how it removes potential jurors. It must do so in a manner that not only appears fair, neutral, and transparent, but also is fair, neutral, and transparent in its results. The impact of custom, perception, routine, personal bias, and strategy must be studied. Numbers must be collected, analyzed, and shared publicly to ensure that all of us who are eligible can serve on a jury and know that we are welcomed to serve on a jury.
The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office must review how it operates and how it interacts in general. There is no greater system of justice than what our country promises. However, as other candidates have noted, things can get better. That is the nature of life: you either stay the same, get better, or get worse.
In a best case scenario, things are good now but are grossly misunderstood. In a worst case scenario, the recent shadows cast on the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office and the justice system in Caddo Parish are but the tip of the iceberg. In the most likely scenario, there are critical parts of the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office and the justice system in Caddo Parish that must be fixed.
What is clear is that we need a leader to get us through the current challenging environment. That leader must be able and willing to communicate with all who are part of the criminal justice system.
To do so effectively, he or she must have experience on both sides of the process. That is the only way to understand what all of the participants need. That is the only way to understand what the prosecution does right and wrong, to see it from the inside and the outside. (Often in life, we may think we look one way or that we are performing one way, only to learn that our friends think we are looking or performing in a completely different way.)
To do so effectively, he or she must have recent experience in the day-to-day workings of the criminal justice system. It is one thing to see the process as an outsider, as someone in an office who reads about what happens. It is another to be in the courtroom, in the jails, and talking to police, victims, and defendants. Running a District Attorney’s Office without recent hands-on experience in the criminal justice system would be like performing surgery after playing the children’s game Operation.
To do so effectively, he or she must be used to being the good guy and to being the bad guy. The District Attorney decides who gets a break, who goes to trial, who goes to jail, and who could die. Such decisions are weighty ones. It is easy to convict defendants who have committed horrific crimes for which guilt or innocence is not really in doubt. It is another to try a hard case with a deserving victim when the evidence just is not that solid. It is yet another to drop a case when the public is calling for revenge but the facts say that the accused is not guilty. It is harder still to go after those who hold political or social clout.
Such decisions will always be questioned. The only way to begin to address those questions is with objective, open, and honest dialogue and an objective, honest, and open process for prosecutions.
Douglas Lee Harville
This is part of a continuing educational series of articles allowing all candidates space to explain their reasons for running for office as well as addressing questions voters should find valuable. This link will appear at the bottom of all articles in this series and allow easy access to previous articles. Limited to ONE (1) article per week per candidate.