Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Could criminals walk free in New Orleans?
Wouldn't it be a strange and disturbing twist if the same storm that killed more than a thousand innocent people ended up freeing thousands of criminals? Dangerous criminals, like child molesters, rapists, even murderers.

It could happen in New Orleans, where Katrina has brought the justice system to a standstill. The city's public defenders office is broke, documents are destroyed, and the courts are running out of time to bring defendants to trial. State law says they have no more than three years to do so.

In tonight's show, you'll meet Dwight Doskey, a public defender whose office is now his pickup truck. The original public defenders office was condemned after Katrina.

Doskey is handling more than 700 cases alone. He says it would take him all year just to interview his clients, never mind doing extensive research on their cases. And that doesn't even account for court appearances.

As we found out, Louisiana is the only state in the country that relies on traffic fines to fund its public defender program. Because nobody was driving or parking after the storm, the office lost 70 percent of its funding and had to lay off 36 of its 42 lawyers.

Also tonight, you'll hear the story of a confessed killer who strangled a woman in New Orleans back in 2003. Come December, if his case hasn't been heard, he can walk free, even though he told police he needs to get off the street before he kills again.

We contacted the Louisiana attorney general's office for comment, but they haven't returned our calls.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 7:05 PM ET
  18 Comments
This story disclosed other chaptre of New Orleans where aftermath of Katrina the criminals are walking free as innocent.Thank you Katrina from New Orleans dangerous criminals.
Posted By Anonymous David Sharma Boston MA : 1:07 AM ET
Justice is blind, and unfortunately for Louisiana's residents, it's also broke. Before dangerous criminals are unleasehed on the streets, couldn't some of the disaster relief funds be diverted to address the stricken justice system? At the same time, Louisiana must put some serious thought to off-site data storage and proper funding for its public defender program.
Posted By Anonymous Arnold, Tokyo, Japan : 1:22 AM ET
Exceedingly weak reporting - and that is for the broadcast story as well. What is neglected is that the inmates the public defender and courts are concerned about are those who are accused of commiting a crime. They have not been convicted and have a constitutional right to a speedy trial. What is so intellectually dishonest about this blog post and story is that it neglects to say how many of the inmates are accused of child molestation, rape and murder. For the most part, and this is based on my 13 years as a criminal defense lawyer, the majority of inmates will not be in for dangerous crimes, but for theft and drug offenses. Is there a constitutional reason that they should still be in custody without access to a lawyer and a trial?

What ought to be done by the DA is a triage. Determine which are violent crimes and find a way to contract with private counsel to handle those cases. Give a priority to such cases and with elderly victims and dump the rest and start over. The reality is that many of the cases won't be provable anyway as the evidence has been destroyed.
Posted By Anonymous Walter Katz, Los Angeles, CA : 2:19 AM ET
I would hope that the Federal Governments Department of Justice would step up, and resolve the problem in New Orleans. It would be a disgrace to let known criminals to walk free after confessing their crimes. But everyone of them should have their day in court, and be represented by an attorney. Could they not have spent some of that 35 BILLION DOLLARS to keep the Justice Sytem working? And what has all that money been spent on? Where's the oversight on these funds, and can they explain to the American Public where this money has been spent? This situation down there in New Orleans only continues to get worse, not better.
Posted By Anonymous Steve P., Lewisville, TX : 3:48 AM ET
So this situation could result in a third wave of trauma and death since Katrina hit.

Could law students from different counties or states volunteer to help out? Maybe arrangements could be made regarding extra credits (for college/university) being given to the students in return for their assistance?
Posted By Anonymous Nikky, London, UK : 5:27 AM ET
Strange and Disturbing??? No...maybe N.O. will just have to go after the true criminals and some folks that committed minor offenses will get a second chance.....good of you to find the most extreme instance that exists and use it as your one example.
Posted By Anonymous david, Washington DC, DC : 7:03 AM ET
The thought of a vicious criminal walking around free scares the @#$@ out of me! There has to bee some sort of claus or loop hole in the justice system to take natural disasters in account for these types of situations. The thing that scares me the most is that the criminal element in New Orleans won't stay there because it is destroyed. The criminals are going to spead into surrounding states like my state, Georgia! I hope someone comes up with an answer to this problem sooner rather than later!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Jason, Atlanta, Ga. : 7:28 AM ET
One would think that the State of Louisiana would have stepped in by now to provide support. Push misdemeanors out of the system but for felonies such as murder, rape, child molestation prosecutorial action needs to be taken.
Posted By Anonymous R Peirce, Danvers, MA : 7:44 AM ET
You can't tell me that there aren't enough federal attorneys with LA BAR licenses (or equivalently reciprocal) that could be sent there by the Justice Department to handle staffing issues until things improve.

As for the evidence issues, I'm not sure that there is a good way to get around the rules and in the end I'm not sure we'd want them to. Victims would certainly have to return to testify. Cases would need to, and probably should, be dimissed if the witnesses cannot come back. It will certainly be a distasteful lesson in how to make records like these safer.
Posted By Anonymous Y.McCowan, St Johnsbury, VT : 7:56 AM ET
Too bad New Orleans uses the old French laws that prevent prosecutors or public defenders from other jurisdictions from helping out.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, Washington DC : 7:57 AM ET
All I can say is thats outrageous. There has to be a way to extend the time for these people to be brought to trail.
Posted By Anonymous Melissa, Normal, IL : 1:13 PM ET
Randi,
This story again highlights how broken the whole area of the gulf is. There is no infustructure to deal with societal issues, be it health, legal, housing, telephone, or electricity. Again, the State and Federal Governments must come into the area to clean up and provide the basics for human existance in the 21st century. Only then will residents be able to rebuild their lives in a safe and reasonable atmosphere. I fear our federal Gov't and its philosphy of less gov't is sitting back to allow "market conditions" to do the job!
Posted By Anonymous lily, Beverly, MA : 1:15 PM ET
Criminals are walking free in every
corner of our country. N.O. has the
spotlight right now which only
exacerbates their misery and highlights
the problems of an increasingly troubled
nation. We are collapsing from within.
Posted By Anonymous cecelia houston tx : 1:16 PM ET
If that is the truth of the criminal stating that if he doesn't get off the street he will kill again. This should even be an issue of whether the man is set free or not. He is a murder, and on top of that he said what he said. Laws are in place to protect the American people not to kill the them and thats what "our" government is doing if that man is set free.
Posted By Anonymous Chad , Daytona Beach, Florida : 1:42 PM ET
People seem appalled by the horrors happening around the world today, the sad fact is, they have been happening from the beginning of time. With the media being the notoriouly wanton bearer of humans behaving badly news, we are steadily being informed of our malicious ways. To change would take compassion of all, and that is not possible.
Posted By Anonymous Jeanine Smith Key West Fl. : 2:15 PM ET
This is one of the most outrageous thing I have ever heard! The city can throw a city wide party, but they can't prosecute criminals? Where are their priorities?
Posted By Anonymous Bernie Beck, Mechanicsville Virginia : 2:46 PM ET
To me, the most powerful thing Randi Kaye pointed out in her report was that this was not just New Orleans' problem. Since the criminals who are let loose can wander anywhere in the country, that makes it America's problem. It's only when the nation starts seeing things from this broader perspective that fixes can truly be made.

Hearing Judge Johnson say that he himself was alarmed at the thought of criminals roaming free in his city really brought home how many different ways New Orleans has been damaged. It's not just the physical destruction. The social and government infrastructure is gone too.

That is what makes this different than the hurricane tragedies in Florida and Mississippi. I live in Northridge, CA and could lose my home to fire or mudslide anytime. But I wouldn't lose my job, my police department, my justice system and the homes of all of my friends and family at the same time.

The difference between New Orleans and other disasters is that it wasn't just buildings that were lost. All the services that make up a city were washed away as well.
Posted By Anonymous Michele Jackson, Porter Ranch, CA : 2:47 PM ET
Well I think its crazy that people are going to get away with murder. Nothing probably can be done but this should be a wake up call and make sure this never happens again in some other city. They need to put cases in a computer and put in a database somewhere so that files can be reprinted if need be. You have a confessed killer who says he will kill again and we cant do nothing to him until another innocent life is killed.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff ,Fresno,Ca : 4:35 PM ET
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