Domestic Violence victims flooded Court Watch NOLA with calls after CWN released the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s 2015 statistics for felony domestic violence battery with an average sentence of 5.6 months, as compared to distribution of cocaine with an average sentence of 9.3 years. The crime victims who called CWN described their harrowing experiences with the Orleans Parish criminal courts. CWN is a non-profit group of more than 100 volunteers that monitors the Orleans Parish criminal courts to ensure transparency, efficiency, constitutional rights and victim rights.

Tragically, there are more violent crime proceedings in New Orleans than CWN can monitor. Violent crime victims often tell CWN that if court watchers are not present to monitor a proceeding, they feel their rights, guaranteed under Louisiana Law, are often ignored. CWN has found that when its volunteers monitor criminal court cases, armed with bright yellow ID cards around their necks and bright yellow clipboards, then the judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, testifying police and deputy sheriffs all act differently.

A common complaint made by victims who have contacted CWN is that they do not receive equal justice because the victim doesn’t know the right people or someone who opposes the victim does know the right people. It is CWN’s goal to empower victims as part of the community at large through education of their lawful rights to demand accountability of public officials. These rights apply to all victims, whether in criminal, municipal, magistrate, or juvenile Court. These rights include but are not limited to;

· reasonable notice to be present and heard during all stages of pre-conviction and post-conviction proceedings.

· refusal to be interviewed by the accused or a representative of the accused;

· review and comment upon the pre-sentence report prior to sentencing;

· court consideration of the impact on the victim when granting or denying a continuance;

· notification concerning an accused's arrest, release, escape, or re-apprehension;

· notice from the clerk of court of judicial proceedings relating to their case;

· a secure waiting area during court proceedings where the victim is not in close proximity to the defendant, their family or friends;

· presentation of an impact statement

To demand the above listed rights, a victim is required to complete a form and file it with the law enforcement agency investigating the case.

Our community needs to stand up for victim rights, as anyone can become a victim at any time. If you are interested in joining the fight to demand accountability and transparency in the Orleans Parish criminal courts, register to volunteer as a court watcher with Court Watch NOLA at http://www.courtwatchnola.org/become-a-volunteer/.

Patti Lapeyre

member, Court Watch NOLA advisory board

New Orleans

Simone Levine

executive director, Court Watch NOLA

New Orleans

Simone Levine