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The La. Supreme Court ruled this week that the 2010 constitutional amendment imposing a deadline on a defendant who chooses to waive his right to a jury trial is constitutional under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the La. Constitution. Click here to read the opinion Juvenile murder parole bill advances to full House
Legislation allowing parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of murder cleared a House committee Wednesday.
The big question surrounding House Bill 152 is whether it would apply retroactively, giving incarcerated offenders a shot at freedom after serving 35 years for first- or second-degree murder.
Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said the bill is silent on retroactivity. “If the courts decide the law should be applied retroactively, this statute will be vehicle for those in jail to gain access,” Adams told the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice.
Still, Adams characterized the proposal as a fair outcome to negotiations on an issue that arose after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The court ruled that life in prison without the possibility of parole for children convicted of homicides violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
HB152, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Hazel, R-Pineville, now advances to the House floor.
In the 50th anniversary year of the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright, Louisiana's much criticized underfunding of indigent defense moved front and center in the U.S. Supreme Court last January in a case where an indigent defendant waited more than seven years for a trial. On Monday, a divided court dismissed it as improvidently granted. Boyer v. Louisiana
By Marcia CoyleContactAll Articles
The National Law Journal
April 29, 2013
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 21–27, 2013)
The National Center for Victims of Crime is proud to share the 2013 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Resource Guide, produced in partnership with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. We hope you will use these tools to plan an exciting National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 21–27, 2013) in your community.
The 2013 theme—New Challenges. New Solutions.—reflects the increasingly complex mission of victim advocates today. We face emerging challenges, such as globalization, changing demographics, immigration, human trafficking, terrorism, new types of crime, and the use of technology both to commit and solve crimes. We also confront enduring challenges. Victims’ rights are not universal and often not enforced. Victims do not always receive the dignity and respect they deserve. Victims often absorb the physical, emotional, and financial costs of crime largely by themselves.
Over the past year, a number of high-profile crimes have highlighted the scope of the challenges we face. The shooting massacres in Aurora, Colorado, and at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State last year showed the public what we see every day—the searing impact of crime on victims and the inadequacy of our tools to meet their needs. Our work to ensure the rights of child sexual abuse victims, prevent future violence, and reach all victims has never been more urgent. Meeting these challenges requires insight and ingenuity.
That is why OVC has launched its new strategic initiative, Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services, to find “new solutions” to the “new challenges” we face. We applaud OVC’s efforts to set a comprehensive course for the future, find smarter and better ways to serve victims, and reach every victim in need.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week provides an opportunity to revisit our history, celebrate our achievements, and advance the progress of victims’ rights. As we recommit ourselves to our mission, we look forward to observing 2013 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week with all of you.
Drug court graduates have hopes for future
THIBODAUX — Lafourche Parish’s drug court participants must hold themselves to a higher standard in order to graduate from the program. There can be no drugs or alcohol; a person must be employed or be in school. If unable to work, they have to volunteer. They also must attend regular counseling, Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings and court appearances. And they have to pay fees.
Four people who’ve done that have been recognized for making it through the program. Summer Brown, 32, of Raceland, had been in the program for three years. The mother of three with another baby on the way says graduating means being able to care for her children again.
“She cooks, she cleans, she works, she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing,” said Ida Brown, her mother. “The person she was on the drugs was not the person she was before the drugs. … Now, I can go to bed, and I know her kids are taken care of, they’re fed, they’ve had a bath, they’re ready for school. Before, a lot of the responsibility was put on me and her dad.”
Brown said she started using after her sister and fiancé died. But it was the 2011 death of her 4-year-old son, Logan, that made her realize she needed to stop using, she said. Logan Brown died when he fell off a tractor and into the mower blades in a field along La. 1. “Drugs took me away from him so much,” she said.
Brown’s 15-year-old daughter, Kelly, was at her graduation Monday. She said she’s glad to have her mother back. “I’m so proud of her. … It makes me glad to see how far she came,” she said.
Drug Court Administrator Fred Duplechin said defendants eligible for the program must have committed a nonviolent, nonsexual crime. They must plead guilty, pass drug tests, attend all required meetings and file required paperwork. If all the criteria are met, their crime is wiped from their record. If not, they face jail time.
“That’s a huge motivator,” Duplechin said.
Countless studies have shown that drug court is an effective way to treat people who commit crimes because of addiction, he said.
“It has consistently proven to be effective in helping people recover by providing effective treatment, reducing recidivism in crime and reducing costs to the community. It costs so much to put a person in prison,” Duplechin said. “There’s a huge correlation between substance abuse and criminal activity. … Once you get into drugs and you start adopting some of the distorted beliefs in the drug culture, then your values and your whole social consciousness gets warped, altered, and people start doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.”
The people behind the program maintain that drug court helps the community too. Derrick Usey, 27, another graduate, said his life likely would not have changed if he had to do the time associated with his crime. Usey used to sell and use cocaine and Ecstasy. The drug court rules and meetings “focus you to stop living that way,” Usey said. Now he’s studying industrial instrumentation at South Central Louisiana Technical College in his spare time from construction work.
Still, trying to reform drug addicts is heart-breaking work, officials said.
“When you’re a part of the program — counselors, treatment administrators — being part of failure is a part of the job,” said Judge Jerome Barbera III, who presided over drug court for three years before Judge Walter Lanier III took over three months ago.
LAFAYETTE — Nearly 300 Louisiana prison inmates have a stake in this year’s legislative session where lawmakers will rewrite sentencing statutes for juveniles who are 17 or younger when they commit murder. Current laws in Louisiana and some other states mandate that juveniles who are tried as adults for murder face the same penalty as an adult convicted of murder — life without parole or reduction of sentence. Adults, although not juveniles, are subject to the death penalty if convicted in a case prosecuted as a capital murder.
Louisiana’s law is in line for changes as a result of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision titled Miller v. Alabama. The nation’s high court ruled in that case that automatic life sentences for youths violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a sentencing hearing is required for inmates who were 17 or younger at the time of the killing. At the sentencing hearing a judge or jury would hear arguments by defense attorneys and prosecutors and view evidence.
In its decision, justices wrote that state laws must contain some possibility of parole, though a judge or jury can still impose a sentence of life without parole after a sentencing hearing. According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, there are 281 inmates in state prison who could be affected by the decision.
“I think the right way to do it is get the Legislature to make a decision and get that behind us,” E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association, said last week.
“I’m sure some people would like to see automatic parole, but that’s not what we’re going to propose,” Adams said.
Advocates for juvenile offenders hope the changes bring freedom for some of the 281 Louisiana inmates locked up for murder convictions when they were young.
“Some of them are old men, quite frankly, who are in the twilight of their lives,” said Carol Kolinchak, legal director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.
Kolinchak said the oldest state inmate who could be affected is 71 years old.
The possibility of parole also extends to inmates like Dale Dwight Craig, of Baton Rouge, who was 17 in 1992 when he shot and killed an LSU student from Pineville.
Craig’s attorney, John Landis, said last week that he has been in touch with Craig about the Supreme Court ruling but has not yet filed for a hearing.
“He will be entitled to be resentenced under the standards of that (Supreme Court) case, in my opinion,” Landis said.
Judges too are awaiting sentencing specifics from the Legislature.
Earlier this month, state District Judge William G. Carmichael in West Feliciana Parish delayed sentencing Trevor Reese until the Legislature acts. Reese pleaded guilty March 14 to slashing the throat of an 8-year-old boy in 2010. Reese, 19, was 16 years old when he killed Jackson “Jack” Attuso, of Clinton.
In January, Louisiana Supreme Court justices sent the life sentence of Albert Landry back to district court in New Orleans for review following the Miller decision. Landry was convicted of second-degree murder in 1976 when he was 17.
In the Landry case, the Louisiana justices said the U.S. Supreme Court “… did not establish a categorical prohibition against life without parole for juveniles but instead required that a sentencing court consider an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics as mitigating circumstances before deciding whether to impose the harshest possible penalty for juveniles.”
The Louisiana District Attorney’s Association is backing a bill, pre-filed by Rep. Chris Hazel, a Republican from Ball and a former prosecutor on the sentencing of juveniles convicted in murder cases. Hazel’s bill would require an offender to serve 50 years of a life sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Hazel said the five-decade incarceration requirement was not unduly harsh.
“That person who is deceased has no possibility of life,”Hazel said. “It has been extinguished. … To me, that kind of pales in comparison to taking away someone’s loved one.”
Kolinchak opposes Hazel’s bill, which she said would keep the offenders in prison until they’re in their 60s. She said other specifics of the Hazel bill go against the spirit of last year’s Miller decision.
“It’s sort of a one-size-fits-all, and so it doesn’t comply with the individualized sentencing that Miller requires,” she said.
Julie Kilborn, with the Louisiana Public Defender Board, said in an email that the 2012 decision also allows the courts to address deficiencies in the offenders’ legal representation. The decision, she said, “creates an opportunity for the state to reduce substantial criminal justice costs by ensuring appropriate sentences.”
Last year’s Miller decision was a continuation by the Supreme Court in softening penalties for juveniles. In 2005, justices took away states’ ability to execute those who were youths when they committed murder. In 2010, following another Supreme Court decision, the Louisiana Legislature amended the sentencing laws for juveniles convicted of rape and kidnapping from mandatory life with no parole to parole eligibility after serving 30 years.
Mike Harson, district attorney for the 15th Judicial District, which consists of Lafayette, Acadia and Vermilion parishes, said there are four inmates serving life sentences who could be affected by Miller. One of them is Shannon Touchet, who was 17 when he took part in the holdup and killing of Lafayette oil company executive Ronald Shaw in 1998.
Harson said he too is waiting on what the Legislature passes. “The court is supposed to set up the principle, and the Legislature should set up the steps” of sentencing laws, Harson said
Chester Cedars, a prosecutor in St. Martin Parish, one of three parishes that make up Louisiana’s 16th Judicial District, said he believes the Miller decision should not apply to convicts imprisoned before Miller. Cedars has convicted two St. Martin Parish men who were juveniles at the time of crime.
“Despite their age, a jury of 12 people in the parish found them guilty of murder,” Cedars said. “Evil knows no age.”