NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A Louisiana prosecutor's office has dropped charges in nearly 90% of misdemeanor domestic violence cases it has closed since the beginning of 2018, new data shows.
The data analyzing domestic violence cases in the local Municipal and Criminal courts was presented to the New Orleans City Council on Tuesday, according to news outlets.
The report says about half of dropped charges were due to victims refusing to prosecute the case, while another 37% were dropped because they were not considered suitable for prosecution. It showed that only 6.6% of the domestic violence cases tried in the Municipal Court led to convictions, as compared to the roughly 25% conviction rate in Criminal District Court.
"If you're a victim and you see these numbers, you almost wonder, 'Why even bother calling the police?'" Councilwoman Helena Moreno said. "If I'm an NOPD officer, I'm wondering to myself, 'Why did I just risk my life to go respond to a domestic violence case?'"
Moreno said she requested the report by public safety analyst Jeff Asher after Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and his staff praised the Municipal Court's speediness and positive effect on victims during this year's budget hearings. Council members were told then that Cannizzaro was moving misdemeanor cases through the Municipal Court because it was faster than Criminal District Court.
"So yes, the data shows that cases are moving much faster in Municipal Court, but that's because cases are simply being dropped," Moreno said Tuesday. "How is this good for victims?"
Cannizzaro blamed the low conviction rates on a new law that makes it harder for prosecutors to convict in cases in which the victim is reluctant to testify. Nearly all the dropped municipal court cases involved victims or witnesses who failed to show up in court or testify at trial, he said at a news conference later Tuesday.
But the law he referenced was passed this year, meaning it doesn't account for the lack of prosecutions in 2018. When pressed for an explanation, Cannizzaro said judges were reluctant to sign off on warrants even before the law passed.
Police statistics show the office had a better prosecution rate with felony domestic violence cases, declining to move forward on about 38% of all domestic violence charges sent to it.