NEW ORLEANS, LA – With the pandemic having slowed down court operations in New Orleans (and throughout the country, for that matter), the recently elected District Attorney has dismissed hundreds of old cases on the docket.
While a majority of the cases dropped were relatively non-victim/low-level crimes associated with narcotics, some of these cases involved weapons and even domestic charges.
This, of course, has stirred concerns regarding the DA’s first month in office.
The new New Orleans DA who ran on reducing prosecutions tosses out hundreds of cases, 55% of them related to drugs. https://t.co/tNxwIv8Z37
— Taniel (@Taniel) March 29, 2021
According to newly published figures, the courts in New Orleans built up a large case backlog during the coronavirus pandemic, and Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams began reducing it during his first month in office.
Both a press release and office records show that Williams dismissed 415 old cases and approved approximately 227 new ones between January 11th and February 11th.
Per the District Attorney’s Office, 55% of the cases dismissed were “narcotics-related,” a trend that coincided with Williams’ campaign promise to drop low-level drug charges in order to concentrate on violent crimes.
Furthermore, according to Williams’ office, many of the cases he dropped were essentially stale.
Approximately 65% of the cases dropped by the DA’s office were older than two years.
According to a list of the 705 charges dismissed by Williams’ office, none of the 415 cases in question contained any charges that would have resulted in a life sentence without parole.
Out of the total 705 charges linked to various cases, at least 120 of those charges were marijuana related.
Newly elected reform DA of New Orleans Jason Williams dismisses 400+ cases from his docket, mostly drug cases, including 100+ marijuana cases, also domestic violence cases where the victim opposes prosecution. https://t.co/S0oJse7FPh
— David Menschel (@davidminpdx) March 29, 2021
Though marijuana-related crimes are minor in the grand scheme of things, charges involving legitimate injury to others were among the charges dismissed by the DA’s office.
Apparently, 58 of the 705 charges dismissed by the district attorney’s office were related to domestic abuse or violence. Of those 58 charges, 7 of them were simply transferred from Municipal Court to Criminal District Court – which means justice can still be sought in those 7 charges.
However, the remaining 51 charges linked to linked to alleged domestic abuse or violence wound up going by the wayside.
While an amalgamation of reasons was used to justify the dismissing of these more serious offenses, the overwhelming majority of these 51 charges were dropped due to instances such as a victim supporting & signing off on the dismissal, declining to prosecute, or simply not appearing in court.
Advocates for victims assert that such instances are all too common. Victims of domestic violence will often continue to be in relationships with their abusers or rely on them to help with their children – typically placing financial and social stresses on them to drop charges.
In a statement from DA Williams’ office, the following was noted about the recently dropped cases to reduce the case backlog:
“We have hired new lawyers to serve on a backlog task force who have endeavored to reach out to these survivors and many of the complainants have since requested that the accused not be prosecuted.”
“In some instances, cases are dismissed and in other more serious instances we have placed individuals in diversion or moved forward with prosecution. Domestic violence cases are complicated and require much more attention than typical cases because of the inter-personal family dynamics.”
Ironically, back when DA Williams was merely a member of the New Orleans City Council, he’d criticized his predecessor – former DA Leon Cannizzaro – for also dropping several misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
Which, when DA Cannizzaro was in office, he cited similar reasons of uncooperative victims hindering prosecutorial proceedings.
Elsewhere within the list of dropped charges, 45 charges were dropped that included the likes of unlawful firearm possession, felon in possession of a firearm, and possessing a firearm along with narcotics.
For officers with the New Orleans Police Department, such arrests are frequently a primary focus.
As per office records, 15 of the gun charges were dismissed because the office lacked the necessary testimony to prove the cases, the charges were unsuitable for trial, or the victim had a strong defense.
Other charges wound up being thrown out due to the defendant’s death, which that reasoning makes perfect sense.
However, the justification for dismissing 18 charges is described as “interest of justice,” which is somewhat of a catch-all phrase in the realm of legal jargon.
In a statement from DA Williams, he addressed these charges that were dropped due to the “interest of justice”:
“Interest of justice is based on the facts as they exist today with the current position or input of the victim, if any, and the criminal record of the accused, or lack thereof, warrants a dismissal. This has become particularly crucial in light of the bloated dockets brought on by the high acceptance rate and the COVID-19 backlog.”
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In other news related to DA Williams, he’s still facing criminal charges for allegedly engaging in various tax fraud from his days at his old law firm. Recently, one of his co-defendants plead guilty to one count of failing to file a tax return.
Back in December of 2020, we at Law Enforcement Today shared a report pertaining to DA Williams’ legal trouble.
Here’s that previous report.
NEW ORLEANS, LA – With his recent win, City Council President Jason Williams will become the new District Attorney for Orleans Parish. Williams won 58 percent of the vote over former judge and one-time interim District Attorney Keva Landrum.
"Jason Williams wins New Orleans DA's race even with tax fraud trial looming"https://t.co/UfqWSEElrR
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) December 7, 2020
However, Fox 8 Live reported that soon after Williams says the oath, he could face a federal jury on 11 counts of tax fraud. Reportedly, he was federally indicted back in June. Williams said:
“I’m a fighter. I’m willing to fight. I don’t get intimidated and I’m going to fight injustice even if it’s happening to me.”
Despite being federally indicted on 11 counts of tax fraud, Williams is still promising a “new era” for the office.
Williams has run on the promise of completely reforming the office, from the inside out. He calls it “injecting humanity back into the process,” and not just prosecuting as many people as they can.
Williams ran as a progressive, vowing to remake a criminal justice system that he called both racist and sexist and to end the “win at all costs” culture that he said has shaped the prosecutor’s office over the last several administrations.
Williams claimed the federal indictment for tax fraud was a politically motivated attack to prevent his election. He will be the first district attorney with no experience as a prosecutor in decades.
Jason Williams’ outsider campaign to reform the top prosecutor’s office in New Orleans was validated by voters as the defense attorney and at-large council member defeated establishment candidate Keva Landrum. https://t.co/zRGKXPtbp0
— New Orleans Public Radio (@WWNO) December 7, 2020
Williams is a defense attorney casting himself as a progressive who claims to be fighting for a more just and humane criminal legal system for his entire career.
He vowed to never seek more punitive sentences through the use or threat of the habitual offender law, charge juveniles as adults, or use material witness warrants to see the arrest of victims of crimes.
He also said that every prosecutor currently working for the Cannizzaro administration would need to reapply for their jobs if and when he takes office.
Williams pleaded not guilty to all the charges in the indictment. He has been accused of inflating business expenses between 2014 and 2018 to avoid paying nearly $200,000 in taxes and failing to report several cash payments over $10,000.
His hearing, which took place via video conference, took place before Federal Eastern District of Louisiana Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby. The federal indictment alleges that Williams and another attorney at his law firm, Nicole Burdett, instructed a tax preparer to file false information on tax forms in order to reduce his tax liability.
New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams received 58% of the vote in a runoff, defeating former judge Keva Landrum. https://t.co/R4oznXaR3q
— KLFY NEWS 10 (@KLFY) December 7, 2020
Reportedly, of the 11 felony counts, one is for conspiracy to defraud the United States, five are for the filing of fraudulent tax returns, and five are for failing to file necessary tax forms on payments over $10,000.
After pleading not guilty to the charges, Williams was given a $50,000 unsecured bond. As a condition of the bond, prosecutors for the government also requested that Williams and Burdett be prohibited from contacting government witnesses, specifically Henry Timothy, who was Williams and Burdett’s tax preparer.
Reportedly, Williams and Burdett filed a civil suit against Timothy, which was filed prior to the indictment. The suit gives a clear picture of Williams and Burdett’s defense against the federal charges.
Hearing now underway as Councilman Jason Williams tries to get tax evasion charges against him dismissed. He alleges that the indictment has political overtones and is questioning the make up of the grand jury.Federal judge Martin Feldman is asking about Billy Shultz involvement pic.twitter.com/5RTtNAX8pF
— Rob Masson (@robmassonfox8) August 5, 2020
The civil suit alleges that Timothy misrepresented himself as a certified public accountant and accuses him of “fraudulent inducement, negligence/accounting malpractice, breach of contract, and unfair trade practices.”
Also, according to the suit, when Timothy learned he was under investigation by the IRS, he “changed his story” and told the IRS that Williams and Burdett had pressured him into lowering their tax liability.
Gibbens, William’s attorney, released a statement following the arraignment:
“Jason is innocent of these charges and we are excited to take the first step in ensuring justice in this case. Now that we have had more time to evaluate the government’s allegations, we are convinced that they are meritless and we are confident that we will prevail.”
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