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After 18 months, jury trials set to resume at Orleans Criminal District Court

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 4:19 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2021 at 5:25 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -Criminal District Court is expected to get much busier in the weeks ahead. We’re told jurors have already been empaneled for a Grand Jury and a Special Grand Jury. Court officials say the prospective juror’s response was promising. From here, they say additional jurors will begin showing up to the court on July 19th as jury trials are set to resume. It’s something that hasn’t happened in 18 months. Individuals arrested and charged during the pandemic have had to wait, plus those waiting for trials before the pandemic led to a backlog of cases.

NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson said once jury trials resume, he believes it could have an impact on those committing violent crimes across New Orleans.

FOX 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti says the issue will be, which cases Judges hear first. Meanwhile, Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission says it will be a test for DA Jason Williams and several of his newly hired prosecutors as trials resume.

“Once the district attorney’s office demonstrates that they’re capable of converting a Bill of Information or an Indictment to a conviction in front of a jury trial, that will, I think, also facilitate more guilty pleas by the free on bail offenders,” says Rafael Goyeneche.

“Everybody is going to be prioritized. I would think the people that are in jail are going to be prioritized to the people that are out on bond. You would hope the severity of the charges helps the prioritize things but there’s a lot of people that will be looking to get a bite at a jury, so let’s see what happens going forward,” says Joe Raspanti.

The D.A. Jason Williams released this statement to FOX 8.

“The people of this city can rest assured that we have smartly used the past 6 months to prepare for this moment and we are ready for trial. While we have been accepting cases and holding people accountable without jury trials, we are excited for trials to resume which gives us another tool to advance the work of securing justice for the people of New Orleans. From Day 1, we have been preparing for this moment – we have hired Trial Assistants to ensure attorneys can focus more time on prosecution with less administration tasks, implemented the first electronic case management system to increase efficiency managing dockets and doubled the size of our Victim Witness Unit to expand resources & services for survivors and witnesses. As we begin jury trials, my administration will be prioritizing cases that involve the most serious, violent crimes including murders, shootings and carjackings. As always, we remain focused on creating a 21st-century prosecutor’s office that is strategic and intelligence-led so that we can truly increase safety and justice for New Orleans’ families today and into the future.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Marlin Gusman released a letter sent to the Judges of Criminal District Court. The letter discusses the transportation of inmates to court as they appear. Gusman says because of the limited space to socially distance on the newly renovated docks, he will transport six inmates per section per day.

Sheriff Gusman says 100 percent of his staff is vaccinated and he says the Court Security Division is now required to return to the courthouse.

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