Juvenile prosecution debate
Ken Daley of The Times-Picayune writes that Orleans Parish Leon Cannizzaro has responded to recent criticism regarding his habits of transferring the majority of all juvenile offenders into the adult system.
In a February 19 report, The Southern Poverty Law Center claimed that his office was “an outlier that chose to prosecute 80 percent of ‘transfer-eligible children as adults’” (NOLA.com). The report said he transferred juveniles to adult-status at a much higher rate than any other Louisiana prosecutor, citing that he has averaged approximately 30 juvenile transfers into adult court each year. This information was used against Cannizzaro to characterize him as doing more harm than good to Orleans Parish’s troubled youth.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, used the law center’s report as the basis for a Feb. 24 hearing on a proposed resolution calling for changes in Cannizzarro’s youth transfer protocol (NOLA.com). The proposed resolution is an attempt to reduce the adult prosecution of teens.
In a letter Cannizzaro sent late Monday to District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, copied to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city’s other council members, he said his office does not transfer 80 percent of all juvenile offenders, claiming that most of the transfers result in cases of murder, rape, and armed robbery (NOLA.com). Cannizzaro’s letter said his policy is to disregard nearly all juvenile narcotics, burglary and battery cases that would be eligible for transfer law, emphasizing that the juveniles he prosecutes as adults are only the most egregious offenders.
Guidry responded to Cannizzaro’s letter by saying, “Every other actor in the juvenile justice field – the chief judge of juvenile court, the chief judge of criminal court, the adult and juvenile public defenders – all stated last Wednesday in no uncertain terms that juveniles are being transferred to adult court when they should not be. They’re being transferred to adult court even when the juvenile judges find no probable cause of the charge. And the adult system fails the young people consistently” (NOLA.com).
Cannizzaro has held his position, claiming that the report relies on faulty data and disregards public safety concerns.
Cannizzaro wrote, “The citizens of New Orleans elected me for the purpose of making these decisions. When you take away the discretion of law-enforcement officers – police and prosecutors – I believe that public safety and the community are victimized” (NOLA.com).
While New Orleans’ crime rates are down in the past 5 years, there are still many juveniles being prosecuted as adults. If you or a family member are facing similar difficulties, please call us at 504-522-7260. We offer free initial consultations with our clients in mind.
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