There was widespread horror when the general public found out that Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office had jailed victims of sexual and domestic violence to force them to testify in court against their abusers.
That horror won’t translate into legislation banning the cruel practice, lawmakers made clear this week. But following a compromise in the face of staunch opposition by Cannizzaro’s fellow prosecutors, at least the use of these material witness warrants — which the watchdog group Court Watch NOLA says has resulted in 10 victims jailed in 2016 and 2017 — could be severely restricted.
State Sen. JP Morrell, who authored the measure, echoed domestic violence experts in calling the practice “abhorrent” and noting that it “re-traumatizes” victims of rape or abuse. Faced with the reality that his proposed ban wouldn’t make it through the process, he amended it to allow this type of warrant to be used only if a judge deems it “absolutely necessary” and “after all other remedies have been exhausted in order to prevent further victimization and trauma to the victims.” That version of the proposal passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday and awaits action in the House.
If it passes, it would mean that putting victims behind bars would be, officially and legally, a last resort.
Which really makes you wonder why it wasn’t all along.