- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Seven New Orleans jail inmates, including one charged with murder and another charged with rape, have been ordered released by a judge because their cases have stalled amid uncertain funding for their defense.

Release of the seven is not imminent - state Judge Arthur Hunter stayed his own ruling Friday pending review by higher courts. But his order renews attention to the funding problems for indigent defense in New Orleans and Louisiana.

Hunter said the lack of adequate defense and the languishing of the cases violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. He also notes the Louisiana Constitution grants poor people a right to appointed lawyers.

Hunter’s order says the inmates have been jailed for anywhere from about three months to more than three years.

“The defendants’ constitutional rights are not contingent upon budget demands, waiting lists, and the failure of the legislature to adequately fund indigent defense,” Hunter wrote.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro planned an appeal.

“It appears that the judge’s ruling declares that a legislative act - namely the most recent budget - violates the Louisiana Constitution,” Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman wrote in an email. “District Attorney Cannizzaro believes that releasing defendants charged with serious acts of violence poses a clear and present danger to public safety, and he intends to appeal the ruling.”

Problems with funding for defendants too poor to hire their own lawyers are evident around the state. State Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson told the Legislature last month that the state’s public defender system represents more than eight out of every 10 criminal defendants, yet many local offices have restricted services and half could soon be insolvent.

In New Orleans, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in January against state and local indigent defense offices on behalf of three inmates arrested on felony charges who requested representation through the Orleans Parish Public Defenders office. The office declined to take up their cases because of its own heavy caseloads and poor funding.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide