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Thanksgiving Comes Early for Some New Orleans Defendants

Five hundred criminal defendants in New Orleans will have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving:  the dismissal of their respective cases. As New York Times reporter Luanne White reports in this article, In New Orleans, Rust in the Wheels of Justice (11/21/06), in the aftermath of Katrina, "as many as 500 defendants, mostly in drug, theft and assault cases, have been freed because of problems with evidence, including difficulty in finding the witnesses who have moved away."

In many cases, evidence has been lost or contaminated through water damage or mold. DNA samples were held without refrigeration for several months, which may ruin their usefulness. One Tulane law professor, Pamela Metzger has urged public defense lawyers to challenge the condition of the evidence in their cases. 

But the loss of evidence can cut both ways. As the article notes: 

Katherine Mattes, another Tulane law professor, said the lost or damaged evidence could also make it harder for innocent people to shake off charges filed against them. She said, for instance, that a rusted gun might no longer fire, making it impossible to conduct new ballistic tests that might show it could not have been used in a murder. “What people say when you describe all the evidence problems is how terrible it will be if we have people who committed crimes and can’t be prosecuted,” she said. “But it also can work the other way."

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 21, 2006 at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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