Friday, August 7, 2009

The South Wants to Focus on Violent Offenders; Why Not LA?

DA wants to transfer marijuana cases to municipal court

07:25 PM CDT on Thursday, August 6, 2009

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
pmurphy@wwltv. com

Video: Watch the Story -
http://www.wwltv. com/video/ news-index. html?nvid= 386875&shu= 1

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans' top prosecutor is floating an idea he
says will help his office focus on violent repeat offenders.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro asked the City Council to consider an
ordinance that would transfer simple marijuana possession cases from
state to municipal court.

He said, of the approximately 2100 open cases at Orleans Criminal Court,
about a third of those cases involve simple possession of marijuana.

"If these cases could be moved to Municipal Court, obviously it would
allow for our resources to be better directed to dealing with the more
serious charges in Criminal Court," said Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro said the change could also help relieve prison overcrowding.
Police would have the option to give an offender a summons in lieu of an

"I am not here advocating the legalization or decriminalization of
marijuana in anyway whatsoever," said Cannizzaro. "We're simply asking
that the cases be transferred from the Criminal District Court to the
Municipal Court."

Cannizzaro reminded the council the District Attorney's Office
recently took over domestic battery cases that used to be handled at
municipal court.

The chairman of the council's Criminal Justice Committee, James Carter,
put the proposed ordinance on the agenda for next week's meeting.

"To me this is in keeping with that progressive, focusing on the violent
offenders and de-emphasizing the lower and giving folks a chance,
another chance at success in this particular community," said Carter.

Rafael Goyeneche, who heads the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission,
said transferring the simple possession cases to Municipal Court makes a
lot of sense. He said the penalty is the same, up to six months in jail
and a $500 fine, and the only thing that really changes is the location
of the courthouse.

"What we're talking about here is not giving anyone a free pass or
letting anybody go, it's a matter of just using your resources to
maximize efficiency and public safety," Goyeneche said.

Judges at Orleans Criminal Court say transferring the marijuana cases is
not a good idea.

Speaking for the court, Magistrate Judge Gerald Hansen said a city
charge cannot be used to enhance any future state drug charges. He also
said offenders should be arrested rather than issued a misdemeanor
summons to appear in municipal court.

"I don't understand the reason for the change," said Hansen. "Nothing
here has happened that would say it hindered the movement of any felony
cases. None of his DAs that handle felony cases handle the magistrate
misdemeanors. "

The matter is now expected to come up before a City Council committee
next Wednesday.

http://www.wwltv. com/local/ stories/wwl08060 9cbdamarijuana. b56f5ba3. html

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DA Pushes For Change To Marijuana Cases

Cannizzaro Wants Simple Possession Cases Moved To Municipal Court

POSTED: 4:22 pm CDT August 6, 2009
UPDATED: 5:55 pm CDT August 6, 2009

Watch video story - http://www.wdsu. com/video/ 20309271/ index.html

NEW ORLEANS -- District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro appeared before the
City Council on Thursday to push for a change to the way the city
prosecutes simple marijuana cases.

"Please keep in mind I am not here advocating the legalization or the
criminalization of marijuana whatsoever," Cannizzaro said.

But Cannizzaro is asking that misdemeanor marijuana cases be transferred
from criminal district court to municipal court.

"We are not talking about those people who charged with dealing
marijuana or are caught in possession of large amounts of marijuana," he

Cannizzaro said right now, roughly one third of the 2,100 cases in
criminal court involve simple possession of marijuana. Moving the cases
to municipal court would allow for better use of resources, he said.

"I think it allows us to devote our resources to the more serious
cases," Cannizzaro said.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson was in favor of the idea.

"We think we have to get the misdemeanor crimes out of your way, so to
speak, so you have every open avenue to attack the real criminals," she

Cannizzaro said the idea also allows for more room in the pre-trial
diversion program for people charged with possession of more serious
drugs, like cocaine and heroin.

Marijuana possession suspects would be issued affidavits, therefore
reducing traffic at central lockup.

"Many of the these people would be given essentially a traffic ticket
and a summons to show up in court to handle their charge," Cannizzaro

The maximum penalty in a simple marijuana case is 60 days in jail and/or
a $500 fine, the same penalty imposed in municipal court.

The council agreed to take up the matter at its next Criminal Justice
Committee meeting.

http://www.wdsu. com/news/ 20308061/ detail.html

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