DA discusses criminal justice related legislation

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The 2021 Legislative Session adjourned last week in Baton Rouge, with over 1,600 pieces of legislation filed for consideration and debate. Throughout the session, which began in April, district attorneys and criminal justice advocates have worked diligently to review and support or oppose over 100 criminal justice related bills.

This article published in the June 19-20, 2021, print edition

District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington attended the Legislative Session to provide testimony on criminal justice legislation and advocate for crime victims. “This was an intense session, with many issues being discussed that impacted the lives of crime victims and their families. We heard emotional and passionate testimony from victims who would have been adversely affected by some of the proposed bills.

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District attorneys and law enforcement leaders from throughout the state joined together protect crime victims in the pursuit of justice,” said Harrington. One of the most debated bills in the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice this year would weaken victims’ rights and provide new opportunities for convicted murderers to escape justice. The proposed legislation would allow killers who were under the age of 18 when committing the murder and were tried and convicted as an adult to gain parole eligibility after serving 25 years of a life sentence.

District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington testifies in May before the House Committee on Criminal Justice with Natchitoches Parish resident, Nathan Albritton.

Crime victims and families attended the two-day committee meeting, sharing hours of gripping testimony of their first-hand accounts of the murders of their loved ones. Nathan Albritton of Natchitoches Parish joined Harrington to share his personal testimony about his family. Albritton’s wife and son were murdered in 1993 in Natchitoches Parish.

Harrington said, “The compelling testimony from the victims who courageously shared their personal accounts of these violent crimes made an impact on the members of committee. As a result the bill will not move forward.”

District attorneys also opposed legislation that would have retroactively required retrying prior non-unanimous felony convictions. Since 2018, juries must reach a unanimous verdict in all felony cases. However, regarding previous convictions, the US Supreme Court ruled with a supermajority decision in May that the law does not apply retroactively. “We opposed legislation that would require victims to retry their tragedy all over again, sometimes with cases over 30 years old with witnesses now deceased or unable to testify,” said Harrington.

In other legislation, DAs recognized the continuing battle to deter illegal narcotics by supporting SB145, which strengthened pre-trial drug testing requirements and set stronger conditions for those entering a drug court program. The law also provides for funding for drug courts and drug programs from any anticipated monies received from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.

“We must continue to do everything we can to reduce, deter, and mitigate the flow of illegal narcotics into our community. We have a successful drug court in Natchitoches Parish, which has impacted and helped hundreds of citizens break the cycle of drug addiction. We will continue to educate our young people on the dangers of narcotics misuse and how it negatively affects their entire lives,” said Harrington.

DAs successfully opposed legislation that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Louisiana. The Legislature did enact medical marijuana legislation, HB 391, to allow for patients who are clinically diagnosed as suffering from a debilitating medical condition to be prescribed marijuana by medical doctor.

 

“We strongly feel that the recreational use of marijuana, or any other controlled substance as defined in the law, should remain prohibited. The negative effects of drug misuse reaches all corners of our community and is not productive in any way. We will continue to work with our local legislative delegation to ensure that the voices of crime victims and allies are heard and our concerns are addressed,” said Harrington.