NEW ORLEANS — Two state lawmakers are working on legislation that would give prosecutors more time to screen cases where young people are charged as adults.
Reaction was strong and swift after Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams missed the deadline to formally charge a teenager accused in a string of violent crimes as an adult.
“People are horrified and upset and, quite frankly, mad about it,” Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, said.
Last month, a New Orleans judge dismissed adult charges against 17-year-old Kendell Myles and 16-year-old co-defendant Kayla Smith.
Myles was on the run after he escaped from the Bridge City Center for Youth last July.
He and smith are accused of carjacking and shooting 59-year-old Scott Toups in the Uptown neighborhood.
“These are horrific crimes and so we have to make sure juveniles that do horrific crimes are being charged as an adult,” Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie said.
Reps Schlegel and Hilferty took notice of Williams’ missed deadline.
They have now proposed a new state law extending the time prosecutors have to file adult charges against juveniles from 30 to 60 days.
“Our understanding is that it’s not enough time to properly screen a case, so it extends and increases the time frame that the DA can screen the case and charge certain juveniles as adult offenders,” Schlegel said.
The Orleans DA is appealing the judge’s dismissal in the Myles case and will continue to seek adult charges.
Williams applauded Schlegel’s and Hilferty’s work on the bill.
“This commonsense legislation that they very quickly put together will make sure that no judge in any other parish, or this parish, takes such a grave step in terms of trying to quash a case,” Williams said.
In the meantime, Hilferty hopes increasing the screening time for juveniles facing adult charges will make New Orleans a safer city.
“We need our DA to look at the crime that’s occurring and make sure that he is addressing that in a way that keeps us safe,” Hilferty said. “Some of these instances that have happened, it is concerning.”
The bill is now expected to be debated during the upcoming state legislative session which begins on April 10.
Kendell Myles remains in New Orleans Juvenile Justice Intervention Center on a separate violent crime charge.
Co-defendant Kayla Smith is also being held at the youth lockup.
Here’s the full statement from the Orleans District Attorney’s Office:
“The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office would like to thank Rep. Hilferty and Rep. Schlegel for their w1ork to understand this procedural inconsistency and propose a common-sense legislative remedy. These leaders have taken the charge to use their platforms to forward what is widely understood to be a prudent fix that will have immediate implications on OPDA’s ability to hold violent offenders responsible and increase public safety in our communities.
The DA’s Office thoughtfully reviews all cases referred to our office on an individual basis. What has become exceedingly clear during the course of preparing complex cases involving youthful offenders is that there are very specific instances in which those cases require a heightened level of review commensurate with the crime committed. In those exceptional circumstances where there are indicators that a juvenile has committed an enumerated serious violent crime and represents a significant danger to the community, there must be reasonable means to ensure that person remains in custody.
This legislation represents an important procedural update that will lead to better, more just results for New Orleanians. To be clear, this is not an effort to treat all juvenile offenders more harshly or significantly change the landscape of juvenile prosecutions. In no instances will any decisions to continue custody be made without a hearing. But, what this change does is close a loophole that has served as an obstacle to a thorough examination of the most serious cases involving juveniles while also protecting their constitutional right to due process. We look forward to a transparent discussion on these issues that will hopefully result in the passage of this important bill.”
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