When someone has been the victim of a crime or has been witness to a crime, the last thing he or she should have to fear is the district attorney in charge of prosecuting the criminal.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what victims and witnesses had to fear in New Orleans.
The district attorney (DA) and a number of his assistants now stand accused of violating the constitutional rights of crime victims and witnesses in a civil lawsuit being pressed by agencies dedicated to protecting American civil liberties.
Essentially, the New Orleans DA would write up a subpoena that ordered victims or witnesses to come directly to the DA’s office to face interrogation by police and prosecutors.
However, the DA doesn’t have the power to issue a subpoena without passing it through a judge to make sure that it serves the interest of justice — but this DA and his staff decided to skip what they seemed to think was just a legal nicety.
Despite the lack of judicial oversight and the fact that the “subpoenas” weren’t issued by the proper person — the clerk of courts — they threatened recipients with fines and jail time if they failed to appear.
Even worse — if the recipients of these documents did fail to appear, then the DA would declare them “material witnesses” to crimes and haul them off to jail. No doubt, this traumatized people who were already scared and traumatized by their experiences — and could have quite easily given them the impression that if they didn’t say exactly what the DA and his staff wanted them to say at trial that they could end up right back in jail.
In many cases, the victims and witnesses spent more time in jail waiting on a trial date than the criminal that started the whole process. At least one victim, who had been raped, spent 12 days in jail before she got to plead her case in court. Another victim, one who was the prisoner of a child sex ring, became a prisoner of the state for almost three months.
In reality, victims and witnesses have the legal right not to be coerced into meeting with prosecutors and testifying unless a judge has stated otherwise.
Tactics like this show the extremes some prosecutors will go to get a conviction. If you’ve been accused of a crime, a criminal defense attorney can help you understand your legal rights and protect them as your case moves through the criminal justice system.
Source: The Root, “ACLU Files Suit Against New Orleans DA for Using Fake Subpoenas to Coerce Victims and Witnesses in Criminal Cases,” Monique Judge, Oct. 17, 2017