Attorney General Jeff Landry is pushing accountability away from his office and toward criminal justice reforms in the case of the early release of Norris Greenhouse, a police officer who took part in the shooting death of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis, saying that “this so-called reform has once again failed the victims of violent crime.”
Greenhouse, who fired four shots during the incident that killed the child, pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges of negligent homicide and malfeasance in office. Under the terms of a plea agreement, he was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
Yes, that’s right: Despite the fact that Greenhouse intentionally shot his gun into a vehicle, directly resulting in the death of an innocent young boy, he was not convicted of murder or manslaughter. Instead, he entered into an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to, and was punished for, only two nonviolent offenses. Criminal justice reforms did not make that plea agreement — Attorney General Jeff Landry did.
Discretion, or said another way “choice,” weighs heavily in the criminal justice system — from prosecutorial discretion in what charges to pursue to judicial discretion in what sentences to impose.
In Louisiana, the state constitution grants the attorney general certain discretionary powers, including the authority to represent the state in any civil or criminal action. This means that if Attorney General Landry were truly outraged by the outcome in Greenhouse’s case, he had the constitutional authority to intervene.
Of all people, the attorney general should be well aware that under Louisiana laws, a conviction for a violent crime requires that a person serve the majority of the sentence, something that is not required for nonviolent offenses.
If Greenhouse had been charged and convicted of manslaughter — the charge and conviction that his co-defendant, Derrick Stafford, faced — then he, like his partner, would be serving a 40-year prison sentence and not eligible for early release.
Criminal justice reforms are attempting to level the playing field without harming public safety. In 2017, for instance, the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards passed several laws to reduce the state’s incarceration rate, which at the time was the highest in the nation. These meaningful goals were achieved by reviewing the records of and releasing from prison only certain individuals convicted of nonviolent crimes.
The case at hand has nothing to do with criminal justice reform and everything to do with the prosecutors choosing to plead down a violent crime. Any criticism of Greenhouse’s early release should thus be directed at the attorney general and not at criminal justice reform.
R Street Institute