Kevin Smith of New Orleans had been locked up for almost eight years on a non-violent drug charge awaiting trial. District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier finally ordered his release earlier this month after an appellate court ruled in June that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. According to The New Orleans Advocate, Smith spent more time in jail — 2,832 days — for a non-violent offense without being tried than any other individual in New Orleans.
“I think it’s an embarrassment to the criminal justice system,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. MCC has been critical in the past of the length of time it takes for individuals accused of crimes to come to trial.
According to Matt Sledge of The New Orleans Advocate, all involved officials are denying responsibility for the delay. “No one can guarantee it won’t happen again.”
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro agreed that Smith shouldn’t have been locked up this long without being tried, but he deflected blame away from his office. Rather, Cannizzaro criticized Smith and his defense lawyers for repeatedly attempting to delay a trial.
“How do I feel about it? Why didn’t the case go to trial? Well, because the defendant did a masterful job of continuing the case over and over again,” Cannizzaro insisted.
But defense attorney Martin Regan rejected Cannizzaro’s argument, countering that the prosecutors were responsible for the delays. “They knew they could not convict him, so the matter drug (sic) on and on and on. Mr. Cannizzaro, do not blame the defense for this.”
Smith was arrested by state police and federal officers in February 2010 after crack cocaine was found in a safe in his home. He was charged with one count of felony possession with intent to distribute. Smith had previously been convicted of drug offenses and was on parole at the time of his arrest. He faced up to 20 years in prison as a habitual offender.
Bail was set at $50,000, more than Smith could afford, so he was confined until trial.
Smith’s trial date was scheduled and postponed numerous times. It was originally set to begin in August 2011. During jury selection prosecutors claimed to discover new evidence. The original charge was then dropped and refiled, giving prosecutors another two years to take Smith to trial.
One year later, in August 2012, the day before Smith’s trial had been rescheduled to start, Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans. Prosecutors then evoked a law passed after Hurricane Katrina to argue for another two years to bring Smith to trial.
The case was reassigned in November 2012 to a new judge. It seemed to drop away entirely until a judge took the case in May 2013.
Smith’s lawyers raised questions about his mental state in 2014, and requested that he receive a mental competency determination. After Smith was judged to be sane, he filed a motion to proceed to trial, but his own lawyers requested another delay. During this time, prosecutors offered him a 10-year plea deal, which Smith rejected.
Smith filed another motion on his own behalf in December 2016, arguing that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. His lawyers supported his motion. Flemings-Davillier rejected the motion in April 2017, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal overruled the district judge in June. The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to consider the case, and Flemings-Davillier finally agreed to order Smith’s release on November 13.
According to a search of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office jail database, Smith was no longer locked up on Thursday, Nov. 16.