March 11 update
Date: Sat, Mar. 15, 2008
March 11, 2008
All of us who have been watching the evolution of the Orleans Parish criminal justice system were heartened to see two high-profile cases enter the courtroom this week. The case of the 2006 shooting of Officer Andres Gonzales drew attention from the entire city and especially from law enforcement, with Chief Warren Riley and other members of the command staff showing support for Officer Gonzales. Gonzales, who was paralyzed when shot in 2006, testified in court on Wednesday, as the trial moved along reasonably efficiently.
Of particular interest to the SilenceIsViolence organization, the case of Dinerral Shavers's murder, a pivotal event in the founding of our movement, came close to a full trial this week as well. Two witnesses who had given statements following the murder, but since then had not participated in trial, were located by the District Attorney's office. The brave, clear testimony of these two young girls during pre-trial motions indicated what an important part of this case they will be.Unfortunately, Dinerral's case was once again postponed, supposedly because of the last-minute arrival of these unexpected witnesses and the complications thereby introduced. The defense argued for more time to prepare for cross-examination of these "new" witnesses. Actually, these girls have been listed as potential witnesses since
the earliest days of this case, and the defense should have been prepared for them, notwithstanding their recent absence. The incompetence that we have weathered for so long on the District Attorney side of the equation, and which at last shows signs of
improvement in the aftermath of Eddie Jordan's disastrous run as DA, clearly has not spared our public defenders. A particularly disturbing suggestion was raised, that investigators from the public defenders office have been contacting the young witnesses in a threatening or intimidating manner: "harassment" was the phrase used in court on Tuesday. The indecorous behavior of the public defender investigators, who laughed and chatted throughout the proceedings, did little to argue for their professionalism. Given the ongoing difficulties the criminal justice system faces with respect to witness cooperation, and the direct impact of witness participation on the stabilization of the system as a whole, respectful treatment of witnesses is a critical responsibility of
everyone involved in violent cases. We hope that our public defenders will not allow loyalty to their clients to inspire behavior that undermines the integrity of the criminal justice process.
As frustrating as continuances and delays are for the friends and family of Dinerral, we certainly would not trade rhetorical and procedural excesses on the part of either the defense or the prosecution for cutting the corners of justice. We don't want quick and careless justice. We want real, thorough justice. The new District Attorney and her office have an opportunity with the high- profile cases currently finding their way to the courtroom to show an attentive public that they can get the job done at a new standard. We then expect this higher standard to be applied to all violent cases, not just the high-profile ones.
Keep your attention and your voices active; we all have an interest in demanding that criminal justice continue to improve in this city.