Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Number 701

701—that is the cruel numerology facing New Orleans. It stands for the so-numbered article of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, which springs suspects from jail or bond obligations if an indictment is not filed after sixty days. According to the Times-Picayune, the term “misdemeanor murders” is gaining currency amongst the criminal classes.

The Pic reports:

“In the eight months before the hurricane, the city released 187 people on a 701, including eight murder suspects, prosecutors’ records show. In 2006, the number of releases soared to about 3,000. And last month alone, 580 people escaped legal custody of either jail or a bond obligation only because prosecutors couldn’t pull together a case ahead of the deadline imposed by law.

‘That’s 580 people,’ said Dalton Savwoir, spokesman for [DA Eddie] Jordan’s office, when asked to repeat the figure for clarity.”

Jordan’s office has already cost the City of New Orleans, even before Katrina. In March of 2005 he was found professionally, but not personally, liable in a racial discrimination suit filed by 44 white employees of the DA’s office, fired by operatives of fellow Democrat Rep. William “Big Freeze” Jefferson, when Jordan took office. Jordan is currently appealing the verdict.

Currently, Jordan is in a finger-pointing battle with the Chief of Police, Warren Riley. Jordan accuses the cops of not filing reports and not supplying proper laboratory evidence. The NOLA PD lost their lab facilities to Katrina, and are borrowing time in other cities’ labs. A major point of contention has been Jordan’s refusal to use evidence from field kits. WWLTV reports on a city council hearing Jordan and Riley attended, at which the issue ignited:

“‘Without a lab report, the prosecutor cannot say that these are in fact the drugs that the police officer claims were taken off this individual,’ explained Jordan.

But Riley said the federal government has used the field tests, which provide on-the-spot analysis of drugs, for nearly 20 years.

‘We have tried and want to encourage Mr. Jordan to use field testing kits on these narcotics cases,’ he said.

Jordan did agree to use the tests on ‘selected’ cases, which drew groans and some boos from the crowd.”

The NOLA PD has not exactly covered itself in glory as of late, but the DA’s record is simply pathetic. Of the 162 murders that occurred in 2006, they have an effective 2 percent conviction rate, having accepted only 54 percent of cases the police have referred. Modern crime labs are a recent development. The DA’s office could also rely on old fashion stuff, like eye-witness accounts and circumstantial evidence to buttress their cases, if they had the necessary skills and experience.

The AP reported on the testimony of one of the 44 fired by Jordan’s office:

“Another white man fired by Jordan testified that he was one of the rare fingerprint and ballistics experts in the district attorney’s office. The resume of the young man who replaced him was projected onto a courtroom screen, and it showed he had little experience other than being a lifeguard and doing some office work at a law firm.”

What was an employment dispute has taken on a larger dimension. Right now, the citizens of New Orleans desperately need the greatest available expertise and talent in the DA’s office, but a jury verdict suggests they do not have it. Not surprisingly, it is a connection the old media is not making.

Based on his poor performance, many residents, including the owner of Basin Street Records, are calling for Jordan’s resignation. The situation is becoming dire and it directly affects the jazz community. Musicians Dinneral Shavers and possibly Hilton Ruiz were murdered on the streets of New Orleans, yet there is no realistic expectation of justice from Jordan’s office. 701 could make the city a magnet for those looking to pursue criminal enterprises. After all, if you do the crime, you only have to do sixty days of time.