Nearly six months after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, more than 4,000 poor people arrested after the hurricane, many only for misdemeanors, are still in jail and have not been tried. And what’s worse, there are only six public defenders in the city.
A member of the Orleans Parish indigent defender board said that clients in jails are “begging to plead guilty” so a judge will give them credit for time served.
This issue may not grab your attention because it involves alleged criminals, but you must remember that “alleged” is the operative word. Some of these people are innocent, and they are sitting right along with the guilty ones.
It is sad to see the Constitution does not have some type of jurisdictional exception for cases like these. An Orleans Parish criminal court judge warned that charges will soon be dropped unless suspects can soon be brought to trial.
As of the present time, there have been no jury trials since the hurricane, and none are scheduled.
A natural disaster should not be a cause for an overthrow of the judicial system. If a natural disaster has the power to wipe out the constitutional rights that have been in place for hundreds of years, the Constitution isn’t worth very much.
Someone must stand up and recognize these people were just as victimized as the rest of the survivors. The only difference is they do not have a functioning justice system that will allow them to escape the catastrophe like all the other residents of their city.
Samantha Long for the editorial board.