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ACLU Files Suit Against New Orleans DA for Using Fake Subpoenas to Coerce Victims and Witnesses in Criminal Cases

ACLU Files Suit Against New Orleans DA for Using Fake Subpoenas to Coerce Victims and Witnesses in Criminal Cases

Postby smix » Sun Oct 22, 2017 11:13 am

ACLU Files Suit Against New Orleans DA for Using Fake Subpoenas to Coerce Victims and Witnesses in Criminal Cases
The Root

URL; http://www.theroot.com/aclu-files-lawsu ... 1819631703
Category: Legal
Published: October 17, 2017

Description: The national American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana and the Civil Rights Corps filed a lawsuit against Orleans Parish, La., District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and 10 of his assistant district attorneys over their use of fake subpoenas to coerce victims and witnesses in criminal cases to come in and be questioned by the district attorney’s office. The 62-page complaint was filed Tuesday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana as a civil rights action that “challenges the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s unconstitutional policy of using extrajudicial and unlawful means to coerce, arrest and imprison crime victims and witnesses.” The complaint accuses Cannizzaro’s office of issuing fabricated subpoenas directly from the office “without any judicial approval or oversight” to “coerce victims and witnesses into submitting to interrogations by prosecutors outside of court.” As previously reported on The Root, Tiffany Lacroix received one such notice in November ordering her to meet with a prosecutor about the upcoming trial of Cardell Hayes, who was charged with murdering former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith. The notice had “Subpoena” printed at the top and warned, in capital letters, that “A Fine and Imprisonment May Be Imposed for Failure to Obey This Notice,” but the notice wasn’t authorized by a judge; nor was it issued by the clerk of court, which normally sends out subpoenas. Lacroix is named as a plaintiff in Tuesday’s filing. “These fraudulent documents create the false impression that meeting with the District Attorney is required by law, and they threaten crime victims and witnesses with fines, arrest, and imprisonment if they do not obey. If that unlawful coercion does not succeed, Defendants routinely obtain arrest warrants to put crime victims and witnesses in jail,” the complaint reads. According to the complaint, Cannizzaro’s office has sought at least 150 “material witness” warrants in the past five years, and in a significant number of those applications, the office used false statements, omitted material facts and relied on insufficient allegations “no reasonable prosecutor would believe could justify the arrest of a witness or a victim of crime.” Once the victims or witnesses are jailed, the complaint alleges, Cannizzaro’s office habitually seeks exorbitant bail amounts that often “dwarf” the bond set for the criminal defendants themselves and leave the witnesses and victims languishing in jail, sometimes long after the defendant has already been released. “Defendants then deny victims a prompt court appearance, where the victim could challenge her detention or the conditions of her release. As a result, victims and witnesses routinely wait weeks or even months in jail before they are brought before a judge. One rape victim spent 12 days in jail before her first court appearance. A victim of child sex trafficking was jailed for 89 days—including Christmas and New Year’s Day—before she had an opportunity to challenge her confinement,” the complaint reads. The complaint accuses Cannizzaro’s office of creating a culture of fear and intimidation that scares crime victims and witnesses into not asserting their constitutional rights. As a result of this culture of fear and intimidation, crime victims and witnesses know that if they exercise their right not to speak with Cannizzaro’s office, they will be subjected to harassment, threats, arrest and jail. Another plaintiff in the case, Renata Singleton, was a victim in a domestic violence case. When she declined to speak with Cannizzaro’s office, she was arrested and jailed for five days on $100,000 bond, according to the complaint. When she was booked into the jail, her clothing was taken and she was given an orange jumpsuit. It was in that same orange jumpsuit that she appeared in court, shackled at her hands and feet and tethered to other prisoners by a metal chain. Her former boyfriend and alleged abuser had paid a $3,500 bond and was released after his arraignment. He appeared in court in his own clothing, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to probation, avoiding jail altogether, according to the complaint. The complaint accuses Cannizzaro’s office of violating the U.S. Constitution as well as Louisiana law. The plaintiffs in the case are seeking “declaratory and injunctive relief requiring Defendant Cannizzaro to permanently end these unconstitutional and illegal policies, and monetary damages against all individual Defendants who violated their rights.”



La. District Attorney’s Office Sends Fake Subpoenas to Coerce Witnesses to Talk in Criminal Cases
The Root

URL; http://www.theroot.com/louisiana-distri ... 1794689746
Category: Legal
Published: April 26, 2017

Description: Prosecutors in the Office of Orleans Parish (La.) District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr. have been engaging in the unethical and possibly illegal practice of sending fake subpoenas as a means of pressuring witnesses in criminal cases to come speak with them. Tiffany Lacroix received one such notice in November, ordering her to meet with a prosecutor about the upcoming trial of Cardell Hayes, who was charged with murdering former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith. The notice had “Subpoena” printed at the top and warned, in capital letters, that “A Fine and Imprisonment May Be Imposed for Failure to Obey This Notice,” but The Lens reports that it wasn’t authorized by a judge; nor was it issued by the clerk of court, which normally sends out subpoenas. Lacroix would not have gone to jail had she ignored the notice, because the notice was fake. Pace University law professor and former New York City prosecutor Bennett Gershman, who is also an expert in prosecutorial misconduct, told The Lens: “There’s no question this is improper. Clearly, it’s unethical because the prosecutor is engaging in fraudulent conduct.” Colin Reingold, an attorney with Orleans Public Defenders, told The Lens that the practice “borders on fraud or forgery, and I certainly see ethical problems with compelling someone to come in under false pretenses.” The use of the documents was defended by Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman, who serves as Cannizzaro’s spokesman, and called the documents “notifications” or “notices.” “The district attorney does not see any legal issues with respect to this policy,” Bowman said, adding that Cannizzaro’s office deals with “an extraordinary number of cases,” including many in which potentially crucial witnesses are reluctant to talk. “Maybe in some places if you send a letter on the DA’s letterhead that says, ‘You need to come in and talk to us,’ … that is sufficient. It isn’t here,” Bowman said. “That is why that looks as formal as it does.” Bowman was not aware of how often the notices were used, but he told The Lens that the practice predates Cannizzaro’s tenure by decades. He claimed that it’s no different than if a letter were sent out on the district attorney letterhead, but there is a huge difference: To someone who doesn’t know any better, the notice looks like an official summons, with the threat of an arrest and/or jail time if the person does not comply. “It is inappropriate for the district attorney’s office to falsely suggest that this document is a ‘subpoena,’” Dane Ciolino, a Loyola law professor and legal ethics expert, told The Lens, “and to suggest that disregard of the document can be punishable by fine or imprisonment.” From The Lens:
Subpoenas are used to compel someone to testify or produce evidence. They’re typically used for trials and hearings, and they’re issued by the clerk of court. Louisiana law also allows district attorneys—with a judge’s authorization—to use subpoenas to force witnesses to be questioned outside court. A judge isn’t present at those meetings, and prosecutors can exclude anyone, except a witness’ attorney. People who ignore a subpoena can be charged with contempt of court and arrested. To subpoena someone for one of these private interviews, prosecutors have to submit a written application to a judge in which they present “reasonable grounds” to question the person. The judge decides whether to order the court clerk to issue the subpoena. The point of court approval, Ciolino told The Lens, is to prevent “possible abuse” by the DA’s office. In these cases, the District Attorney’s Office didn’t go to a judge. Instead, the office sent the notices itself.

The Lens informed Bowman that it would be reporting that legal experts had said the practice could be illegal, and on Wednesday afternoon the following appeared in the New Orleans Advocate:
For years, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has taken a stern approach to skittish witnesses, warning in written notices with the word “subpoena” at the top that failing to talk could mean fines or even jail time. On Wednesday, prosecutors announced they are dropping the ominous heading on those notices, acknowledging that the DA’s Office does not have the authority to issue subpoenas by itself. Critics, including the Orleans Public Defenders, had assailed the notices as misleading. The DA’s Office will now send a request called a “notice to appear” instead. “I have today again gone out and said this is the only acceptable notice to appear that we will be sending to people,” First Assistant District Attorney Graymond Martin said.

The Lens says it received no notice or announcement that the practice was being stopped.
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