Bill to pull more juvenile court data into the light in five parishes advances from first committee

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 11:30 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) -- House Bill 321 -- also known as the Truth and Transparency Act -- advanced through Louisiana’s Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday (May 30) and could transform the way information on accused juvenile offenders is shielded from the public.

If signed into law, the measure would force five Louisiana parishes (Orleans, East Baton Rouge, Caddo, Bossier and Lafayette) to establish public-facing dashboards providing information on teens accused of violent crimes.

The public would have access to records involving arrests, bonds, court hearings and motions. They could also see how juvenile judges adjudicated cases of alleged violent crimes involving teens.

“We talk a lot about criminals, I’ve noticed, in this city. But now we’re going to start talking more about the victims and what they need,” said Elisabeth Hansard, the mother of UNO student Noah Hansard, who was shot and paralyzed in an August 2022 armed robbery in Lake Terrace.

New Orleans police booked 16-year-old Cruz Matute with the shooting and armed robbery. Matute’s case originally landed in the juvenile justice system, where the maximum sentence he could have received would be detention until his 21st birthday.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams eventually attempted to transfer Matute’s case to the adult Criminal District Court, but missed a filing deadline. An appellate court eventually approved the case transfer to try Matute as an adult.

But Hansard said through the early days of the case, she struggled to get information on Matute’s hearings in court.

“Because of all the work I’ve been doing, communication has gotten much clearer,” she said Tuesday. “But my goal would be for it to be clear for all victims. It is certainly my hope that, as we have more systems that address the cases, it will send a clear message to others who may think of committing a crime that business as usual is over.”

The bill’s author -- Rep. Debbie Villio (R-Kenner) -- says the parishes selected represent areas where there have been more high-profile crimes involving juveniles, and that they have the capability to release the kind of information that would be available in the dashboard, while others do not.

She said she hopes the “pilot program” would eventually be rolled out statewide.

“The information will allow us, as a legislative body, to make evidence-based decisions,” Villio said Tuesday.

But opponents argue the bill unfairly targets juveniles who have only been accused and would have lasting impacts on teens who have been adjudicated as guilty as they later attempt to reenter the community.

“This is information that someone could look up. And even though this information is about someone who has not even been convicted of a crime but has just only been accused of a crime, that still can present challenges for them as they try to exist in their community just to see that,” said Ashley Hill Hamilton, policy manager for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR).

The LCCR, which serves as the juvenile public defenders in Orleans Parish, opposes the bill. Hamilton said information on juveniles already is available to victims through their local district attorney’s office.

“It puts children’s information in danger,” Hamilton said. “And it also makes it more difficult for them to reintegrate into their communities once they have done their time.”

The bill now advances to the Senate Finance Committee.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.