We believe that capital punishment is ineffective, inequitable, and immoral. Numerous studies demonstrate that the death penalty does not make us safer by deterring crime. At the same time, it takes massive amounts of money away from the rest of the criminal justice system, meaning that the investigation, prosecution, defense, trials, and appeals in all other cases - including the great majority of murder cases that are not capital cases - are grossly underfunded. Though enormously costly, the administration of the death penalty is still fraught with error. Every year, across the country, people on death row - on the verge of execution - are shown to be innocent. Decades of tinkering with the machinery of death have shown that there is no way to administer the death penalty fairly, accurately, and without racial bias. The death penalty does not comport with human dignity, and in all cases constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Louisiana and United States Constitutions.
LACDL, therefore, supports complete abolition of the death penalty.
We believe that open and full disclosure of evidence by the prosecution promotes fairer trials and fewer false convictions. We believe that pretrial discovery in criminal cases, where life and liberty are at stake, should be meaningful and far-reaching. Without full discovery of all evidence, including evidence favorable to the accused, innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit, and otherwise accurate convictions are vulnerable to re-litigation years after a defendant is sentenced. The conviction of the innocent is a moral and financial disaster for those people, their families, and all of society - but, in particular, it is unfair to the victims of crimes, who deserve to see the right people convicted in proceedings that accurate and final. Even when trial results are accurate, victims cannot move on when trial proceedings are seeded with error that will give rise to years of unnecessary litigation. We also believe that timely and full disclosure of all state evidence supports court efficiency by avoiding the delays associated with pretrial litigation and unnecessary post-conviction proceedings.
To promote accuracy, efficiency, and the interests of victims and defendants, LACDL supports:
The robust enforcement of the constitutional right of criminal defendants to receive all favorable information in the constructive possession of the government well before trial. Expanding Louisiana's restrictive discovery laws in criminal cases, and - at the very least - to mirror discovery rules in place in much of the rest of the country, where criminal defendants are entitled to the statements of the prosecution's witnesses before trial.
Police Investigation & Scientific Evidence
We believe nobody should go to jail based on evidence that is unreliable and inaccurate. Too often, the use of unprovenforensic techniques, or the substandard administration of otherwise reliable techniques, has resulted in the conviction of the innocent. We believe that police evidence-collection practices in Louisiana should reflect nationally-accepted best practices, which have been proven to result in the conviction of the guilty and the exoneration of the innocent. Neither public safety nor the public fisc is well-served by the use of bad science and unreliable evidence in court.
To promote reliability and accuracy in the criminal justice system, LACDL supports:
Enacting the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences in its 2009 Report, Strengthening Forensic Sciences in the United States. These recommendations include, but are not limited to, the funding and housing of forensic labs independently from law enforcement. The use of reliable eyewitness identification procedures, including double-blind, sequential photo arrays and lineups. Mandatory videotaping of all police interrogations and statements. Strong curbs on the use of notoriously untrustworthy jailhouse testimony or testimony of cooperating witnesses given in exchange for leniency.
Exposing & Correcting the Conviction of Innocent People
We believe that post-conviction review is a critically important stage in criminal proceedings, offering an opportunity for exoneration of the innocent and correction of grossly unjust sentences. But we know that, too often, prisoners in post-conviction proceedings suffer because they do not have the capacity to investigate their cases, uncover crucial documents, or press their legal claims effectively.
We believe that, in order for post-conviction proceedings to be meaningful, petitioners must be able to take advantage of the enormous potential for new and increasingly sensitive forms of forensic testing - including, most notably, DNA testing - to audit the accuracy of convictions. That testing cannot take place if key evidence is destroyed after trial. To protect the innocent, and to ensure the prosecution of the guilty, evidence in serious felony cases should be preserved for as long as is practical.
LACDL supports measures that will identify, free, and provide just restitution for the wrongly-imprisoned in Louisiana, including Broad post-conviction protections, with a minimum of procedural barriers to the pressing of meritorious claims. Access to legal assistance for prisoners. The appointment of qualified counsel for post-conviction petitioners with facially meritorious post-conviction claims.
The preservation of, at a minimum, samples of all evidence in all violent felony cases for the duration of the sentence of the defendant(s). Preservation of, and ready access to, law enforcement records in the aftermath of convictions. A permanent right for defendants and prisoners to obtain forensic testing of evidence as technologies develop.
Prompt and adequate compensation for the wrongly convicted.
We believe that mass incarceration is not making us safer. We have seen Louisiana become the nation's incarceration capital at enormous public cost and without a meaningful impact on public safety. There is a better way - a genuinely rehabilitative, humane, and rational justice system that calibrates sentences carefully to the severity of each offense. We believe that public safety is enhanced when a justice system offers a range of individualized treatment options and sanctions, reserving lengthy terms of imprisonment for extraordinary circumstances and always recognizing the possibility of
redemption. LACDL therefore opposes mandatory minimum sentences and the application of "habitual offender laws," which take individualized sentencing discretion away from judges and allow the harshest penalties for even nonviolent offenses.
To promote real and cost-effective public safety, LACDL supports:
Laws that promote individualized sentencing, with protections against biased or excessive exercises of judicial discretion. Policies that curb the overuse of lengthy terms of imprisonment. Evidence-based laws and policies that treat substance use, abuse, and addiction as a matter of public health with emphases on treatment and education.
Meaningful parole reform that offers inmates real opportunities to win release by demonstrating rehabilitation.
We believe that the justice system cannot proceed as though children were not children. United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, a unanimous body of psychological research, and our own experience as parents and as children tell us that adolescence is a critical transitional stage marked by immaturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility and risk, which warrants care and opportunities for a better future.
We believe that prosecuting children as adults is a failed policy that increases recidivism and decreases community safety. Because exposure to the juvenile justice system is itself a risk factor for further reoffending. The juvenile justice system should divert as many children as possible out of formal proceedings and into rehabilitative and restorative programming. If a child must be prosecuted, though, the juvenile justice system should be careful to offer the child every right and protection that is guaranteed to criminal defendants. We believe that secure detention and secure custody for youth must be a last resort. Status offenders - youth who have not committed delinquent acts, but who are under the supervision of the courts because of their youthful status - should never be detained. Research shows us that youth are most likely to be rehabilitated in their homes and communities, and should be offered a range of individualized dispositional services, including appropriate educational, mental health, and other treatment programs. Children who are held in custody are still children, and juvenile jails and prisons must offer high-quality rehabilitative services in a humane and safe environment.
Therefore, to promote a truly rehabilitative juvenile justice system, LACDL supports:
An end to the transfer of youth to criminal court, and an end to the imposition of criminal sentences on youthful offenders. If children are to be prosecuted as adults, the institution of transfer hearings in every potential transfer case at which a judge is empowered to decide on the appropriateness of criminal jurisdiction based on the individual needs of the child and the particular circumstances of each case. The development and broad use of diversionary programs for youth as an alternative to formal involvement in the juvenile justice system. The creation and promotion of a range of meaningful community-based services as dispositional options for at-risk youth. Policies that deemphasize incarceration and that prioritize and incentivize community-based treatment for adjudicated youth. A complete end to the detention of youthful status offenders.
The enforcement of standards ensuring that youth who must be detained will be held in safe, humane facilities that offer high-quality, individualized treatment. Generally, developmentally-appropriate juvenile justice laws, policies, and practices, that reflect and embody an understanding of adolescent psychology and the particular and specialized needs of young people.
Indigent Defense & the Right to Counsel
We believe in the right of every accused person to the zealous and effective assistance of counsel. Defense attorneys safeguard our most cherished and fundamental individual rights and protect against unfair and false charges, prosecutions, and convictions. We believe that, in a fair and just society, the quality of the defense our citizens receive should not depend on how much money they have. Louisiana's public defense system is vital to the effective functioning of the justice system and to the protection of the rights of every Louisiana citizen. Public defenders must be full partners in a functioning justice system. We believe that we are all safer when public defenders are given the resources and support that they need.
To preserve, protect, and enhance the right to counsel for all people, LACDL supports:
Programs and efforts that promote public respect for the value of criminal defense services and providers. The independence of criminal defense counsel from interference by executive, prosecutorial, or judicial agencies. Fully-funded public defender programs with secure and dependable revenue streams that are adequate to provide for the zealous defense of every indigent accused and that provide genuine resource parity with prosecution agencies. Including the ability to hire fulltime staff with benefits equal to the office of the District Attorney in that District. While LACDL does not prefer the current funding by court costs on traffic tickets we realize it is a current necessity. Therefore, LACDL will not support any legislation diverting funding collected from local court costs from the local District Defender's Office. In other words, local funding should remain local. LACDL supports the application of the ABA's 10 Principles on Indigent Defense and its implementation in Louisiana Fully-Funded Capital programs are necessary and should be funded by the State with secure and dependable revenue streams that are adequate to provide for the zealous defense of every indigent accused, and that provide genuine resource parity with prosecution agencies. Funding should include experts and investigators to ensure the defender receives a fair trial to comply with ABA standards.
We believe that marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts students, lower income classes, African Americans, and other ethnic minorities who bear the brunt of cannabis arrests and prosecutions. The responsible consumption of marijuana by adults in private should not be defined as criminal behavior deserving of arrest, potential jail time, a criminal record, and the lifelong stigma that accompanies it. Criminalizing marijuana is a disproportionate response to what, at worst, is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.