By Marion Marks
“The defendants’ constitutional rights are not contingent upon budget demands, waiting lists and the failure of the legislature to adequately fund indigent defense,” Orleans Parish District Judge Arthur Hunter said in his 11-page ruling. “In this country, a person who cannot afford an attorney and who has not been convicted, should not remain in jail without a date certain when proceedings will begin and when funding will be made available by the legislature to exercise his constitutional rights to an attorney and effective assistance of counsel.” [NOLA ARTICLE]
Judge Hunter ordered a halt to prosecutions and an end to pretrial incarceration for seven felony defendants for whom the state has been unable to find funding for lawyers and defense preparations. It was that simple and that complex for citizens who were victim of the crimes alleged to have been committed by these defendants. And in one simple order the whole state of Louisiana’s criminal judicial system could be placed in jeopardy
The Caddo criminal judiciary network, although aware of and closely monitoring what has transpired, has a scheduled forum on April 21 at LSUS, co-sponsored by the Shreveport Times, the Shreveport Bar Association, LSUS, and Blanchard Walker O’Quin & Roberts, A Professional Law Corporation, from 7:00PM until 8:30PM. The issues covered will probably be the same, but the importance cannot be overlooked.
Greater details will be announced, and it is anticipated that other judicial rulings will occur prior to this forum and will affect future prosecutions and defense options.
Caddo, and the other parishes, will not be immune. The potential for very negative implications cannot be overlooked. This will require great minds, probably lots of money and cooperation as well as sacrifice. No one ever said that justice was free or inexpensive, but the goal of “equal justice” continues to be a driving force.