NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It's a practice that's not illegal, but council members call it unacceptable: Witnesses and victims of violent crimes are sometimes arrested when they fail to show up in court to testify.
"It was shocking. I knew it was bad. It's just far worse than I imagined," said Councilman Jason Williams.
"That is something that is used in extreme circumstances, and that is something that has been very rarely used by this office," District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said.
The law does permit district attorneys to request a warrant in a criminal case.
"So, we're talking about victims of rape. We're talking about victims of attempted murder. We're talking about victims of kidnapping as well," said Simone Levine.
"The chief said he can't close cases because people don't want to participate in the criminal justice system. This is why," Williams said.
"This isn't Mayberry U.S.A., this is Orleans Parish, and we are probably the most violent parish in the entire country. In my opinion, in order to stop the violence you've got to have people cooperating," Cannizzaro said.
According to the data collected by Court Watch NOLA, six victims were arrested last year. They say a rape victim was jailed for eight days and man who was an attempted murder victim spent 179 days behind bars when he didn't show up to court to testify.
"Frankly, I don't see how that is ever OK," Councilwoman Stacy Head said.
Cannizzaro said his office goes to great lengths to accommodate victims.
"I do not, as the district attorney, want to put any witness or victim in jail. That's a measure of last resort," he said.
Williams introduced a resolution demanding that the DA discontinue the incarceration of domestic violence and sex crime victims on material witness warrants.
"I want to do what's right for them, and I certainly want to go to court and put my best foot forward for them because I don't want them or anyone else victimized. But I have to think about what's best for the entire community, the entire city of New Orleans," Cannizzaro said.