The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is objecting to the state's order suspending legal deadlines in criminal court cases.
In particular, the organization has sent a letter to the governor about the part of the order that suspends legal deadlines for prosecutors to file charges against people being held in jail.
In the letter, which was also sent to the Supreme Court, the ACLU writes that the action is a “grave threat to fundamental civil rights” that would undermine public health and leave thousands of presumably innocent Louisianans to languish in jail in legal limbo. The ACLU of Louisiana called on courts to continue to honor legal timelines and uphold due process during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We understand the need to protect the public from this unprecedented pandemic, but these curbs on due process would leave thousands of presumably innocent Louisianans to languish in legal limbo while doing nothing to advance public health,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Far from stemming the spread of this virus, these moves will result in more people confined in squalid conditions where they are at substantially greater risk of infection. It is critical that the governor and the Louisiana Supreme Court instruct courts to continue to conduct daily bail hearings and release from custody everyone who is not a danger to our community.”
The ACLU says that when similar measures were put in place following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it resulted in the widespread unlawful detention and widespread over-incarceration that was very difficult to rectify.
“It’s important to remember that Louisiana tried this after Hurricane Katrina and the results were catastrophic, with thousands of people wrongly trapped in the legal system for months, and lawsuits against sheriffs and the state,” said Odoms Hebert. “We hope to work with the Governor and the Supreme Court to ensure that these emergency measures are implemented in a way that prevents us from repeating the terrible history of 2005 and protects the public from the coronavirus. It is possible to both protect individual rights and protect the public, and we hope to work together to do so.”
A copy of the letter, which was also signed by Lindsey Hortenstine, President of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Meghan Garvey Legislative, Chair of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Katherine M. Mattes, Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and Senior Professor of the Practice Tulane Law School; and Pamela R. Metzger, Director of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center and Professor of Law Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, is posted below.