I read with interest John Simerman’s story on Oct. 1 about Louisiana’s habitual offender law, and I’d like to explain my opinion. First, there are many alternatives prior to the use of the habitual offender law. Due to the leadership of the Judges and Law Enforcement community in Washington and St. Tammany parishes, we presently have programs extending from Operation Angel (drug rehabilitation prior to arrest) to the DA’s Diversion program (rehabilitation without a criminal conviction) to the Judges’ specialty courts, including Drug Court, Sobriety Court, Family Preservation Court, Behavioral Health Court, and Reentry Court, among others. All these programs attempt to rehabilitate without incarceration.
However, I want to make it absolutely clear that I support multiple billing as a prosecutorial tool. As expressed in the story, I do believe that the habitual offender law should be used for those who repeatedly prey on others, whether or not their predatory criminal behavior results in violence. For example, the criminal who repeatedly burglarizes homes and automobiles or sells drugs belongs in jail, even if no one was hurt or killed when the crime was committed. Such criminal activities undermine the safety and security of our communities. Therefore, those who choose to commit such criminal acts multiple times indeed deserve tougher sentences than first-time offenders.
I don’t like that the habitual offender law in its current form does not allow judges the ability to suspend a portion of the sentence imposed. For example, the law sets mandatory minimum sentences that cannot be suspended. The value of a suspended sentence is that it hangs over a defendant’s head as a strong deterrent to crime while the defendant is out of prison. The current law also does not include a probationary period for defendants upon their release, which I also believe can help steer defendants from crime.
The habitual offender law does give my prosecutors a “big hammer” to hold over defendants who already have been given second chances through our many specialty courts. But the law also gives prosecutors the option of incrementally ratcheting up the punishment for those who continue to break the law.
district attorney, 22nd Judicial District