NEW ORLEANS – The City Council on Thursday passed a non-binding resolution condemning the District Attorney’s office for jailing victims of rape and domestic violence if they don’t testify against their attackers, using material witness warrants.
In a 6-1 vote the council said it wanted to keep up the pressure on District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to end the practice.
“The DA has shown us he is not willing to work collaboratively,” said Councilman Jason Williams. “I’m not willing to sit back while another rape victim goes to (jail), regardless of what the DA says.”
Cannizzaro fired back that he had only one such case in 2016 and reiterated that he doesn’t do such things on a whim.
“Decisions to seek material witness warrants are not made carelessly,” he said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon after the vote. “I must balance the concerns of the victim with the safety of a community that is being torn apart by violent crime.”
Cannizzaro has stated that position before, but his statement Thursday included a couple of not-so-subtle shots at the council.
“According to Jeff Asher, 15 people have been shot and 7 murdered in the last six days in New Orleans,” said the statement. “Perhaps it would be better for the six members of the City Council who voted in favor of the resolution to focus their attention on a violent crime problem that is spiraling out of control and homicide clearance rate that is rapidly deteriorating.”
Cannizzaro also said the council needs to do its homework.
“The six council members who voted in favor of this resolution either are ignorant of the fact or – perhaps even more frighteningly – simply do not care that in each of the six cases identified in Court Watch NOLA’s report, my office was forced to choose between seeking a material witness warrant or releasing a dangerous predator back on the streets.”
Cannizzaro cited as an example a recent domestic violence case in which the victim refused to testify and the defendant was found not guilty.