Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro either doesn’t understand the gravity of his recent statements or doesn’t care. He’s on the record saying jailing rape victims to ensure their testimony is okay.
Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says in some rare cases, it’s necessary to put a victim or witness in jail to get a dangerous criminal or sex offender off the streets.
“If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail, for eight days, in order to…keep the rapist off of the street, for a period of years and to prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I’m going to do that,” Cannizzaro said.
These statements come on the heels of a judicial watchdog group called “Courtwatch NOLA” taking issue with the DA’s office using “material witness warrants” to compel victim testimony. These are arrest warrants for witnesses or victims that send someone the District Attorney feels vital to the case to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. If your testimony is important, you’re headed to the pokey.
Why would a DA’s office jail someone vital to the case? Wouldn’t a more compassionate form of ensuring their return to court be just as effective, and maybe a better look for a region and an office that already has terrible PR in the eyes of the community? In Cannizzaro’s eyes, it’s all a small price to pay in the pursuit of justice.
The DA maintains it’s a small price in the pursuit of justice.
“Steps have been taken to arrest that person, to indict him, to bring him to court and [the witness says], ‘I don’t want to get involved,’ in my opinion that is wrong,” Cannizzaro said.
That small price to keep your witness means one more person goes into the jail, with their alleged rapist. One more person gets to do the squat and cough in front of a booking officer to ensure no contraband makes its way into the jail. If that person is lucky, they won’t get a cavity search violating them a second time, this time state sanctioned. They’ll get the same jail issued jumpsuit and crocs as their rapist.
That’s DA Cannizzaro’s idea of a “small price.” It’s more about keeping the really violent offender off the streets for a long time than making sure victims and witnesses aren’t treated with compassion. A little inconvenience for them now means the bad guys are off the streets, and a little inconvenience never hurt anyone, right?
“Is it more important for this witness to be inconvenienced for a very short period of time or is it better for the community to get the violent offender off the streets and keep him off the streets,” Cannizzaro added.
Of course, this is Orleans Parish, where there’s a bit of a problem determining just when those alleged violent offenders will actually get a day in court. That problem actually saw a guy charged with rape get released from jail before ever getting tried for the offense. Cannizzaro threw a fit over that too, but let’s not get past the point of this post.
Three hundred and forty eight miles from Orleans Parrish is Harris County, Texas. Last year, during a sexual assault case, “Jenny,” a victim suffering from bipolar disorder, broke down on the stand during testimony and said she couldn’t continue. District Attorney Devon Anderson wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of her rape victim not returning to court. So she sent “Jenny” to jail. Let Devon tell you all about it.
Unfortunately for Devon Anderson, she’s no longer Harris County’s District Attorney. When it came to choosing between “Jenny” or Devon, the public chose the former and voted Devon Anderson out of office. The current Harris County DA, Kim Ogg, conducted sweeping changes of the District Attorney’s office and even testified in favor of “Jenny’s Law,” a piece of legislation giving victims and witnesses their own attorney and a full hearing before a judge signs an attachment warrant.
Leon Cannizzaro didn’t look to the fate of Devon Anderson when making his current statements to the press. That could very well be the end of his prosecutorial career, given the public’s interest in seeing victims and witnesses treated with compassion instead of dealing with an inconvenience.
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And in Orleans Parish, Leon Cannizzaro’s failure to remember the past of Harris County may condemn his future as a District Attorney.
Time to bust out the popcorn. Happy Friday.