NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans defendants convicted of selling cocaine receive vastly longer sentences than people convicted of domestic abuse battery, hundreds of people are jailed because they cannot afford to pay fines associated with their cases, and the vast amount of criminal cases end in a guilty plea, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report by the court-monitoring organization Court Watch NOLA details various statistics about the city’s court system. All the statistics were for 2015. The organization doesn’t analyze the data or make policy recommendations based off of their findings but instead presents them to the public so citizens can learn more about their court system and make decisions based off of that knowledge.
“They come from the communities where the arrests happen. They come from the communities where they are victimized. They are actually seeing crime and public safety play out themselves,” said Simone Levine, the organization’s executive director.
Levine noted the statistics about how much time people convicted of domestic abuse battery are sentenced to as compared to people convicted of certain drug crimes.
“I found some of the sentencing data to be the most surprising,” she said. “The amount of time that somebody is serving with domestic abuse battery is just so much lower.”
People convicted of domestic abuse battery were sentenced on average to 5.6 months whereas those convicted of distribution of cocaine or possession of cocaine with intent to distribute received an average of 9.3 years. Domestic abuse battery has a lower minimum sentencing guideline than cocaine distribution — 30 days as opposed to two years — but the maximum someone can receive is potentially much higher — 50 years as compared to 30 years.
Courts also issued 6,078 arrest warrants for failure to pay fines and fees, the report says; 2,482 people were actually booked into the city’s jail for not paying. Levine also pointed out that New Orleans is currently facing a federal lawsuit over jailing people who fail to pay fines. This practice has come under attack nationwide by organizations who say it criminalizes poverty.
The vast majority of cases that actually reached a final disposition — guilty plea, conviction, acquittal or dismissal — ended in a guilty plea; 83 percent of the 6,773 defendants charged with a felony, state misdemeanor or municipal code violation in the city last year pleaded guilty while another 14 percent saw their cases dismissed. Only one percent were found not guilty.
The organization gathered the data from various places such as the city’s public defender’s office, the sheriff, the mayor’s office, and the city’s pretrial services.
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