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Orleans district attorney Leon Cannizzaro sought to jail domestic violence victim

Orleans district attorney Leon Cannizzaro sought to jail domestic violence victim

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro sought to jail a victim of domestic violence after she refused to to to respond to a fake subpoena his office sent her demanding that she meet with them.

The woman was never locked up. A judge originally issued an arrest warrant but then withdrew it after Cannizzaro dropped the charges against the woman’s ex-boyfriend. But Cannizzaro’s behavior is generating attention because of his tendency to issue these “fake subpoenas” to get witnesses in criminal cases to talk to his office.

Protesters in New Orleans have been calling for Cannizzaro’s recall.

According to the Lens, a non-profit news sight, prosecutors sought to jail the woman because she was not cooperating with their investigation and not coming to their office when she was sent a “subpoena.”

The documents had the word “subpoena” at the top of the page even though it had not been signed by a judge, meaning that disobeying would not be a criminal offense. The text said in all capital letters “SUBPOENA: A FINE AND IMPRISONMENT MAY BE IMPOSED FOR FAILURE TO OBEY THIS NOTICE.”

Cannizzaro defended his behavior, saying that the woman had gone to police twice but then stopped speaking to the authorities. But Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman told the Lens that obtaining an arrest warrant based on a fake subpoena “raises the level of misconduct.”

Legal experts questioned whether it was legal to send any of the fake subpoenas out, although news reports said the office had been doing it for years. It also came out that Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick has sent out similar “subpoenas and the office of North Shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery sent out documents that looked like subpoenas but didn’t actually use that word.

“There’s no question this is improper,” said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor in New York City, in an interview with The Lens. “Clearly, it’s unethical because the prosecutor is engaging in fraudulent conduct.”

Defense attorney and New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams said if a defense attorney had done something similar, “I guarantee you this DA would try to prosecute that defense attorney.”

After the reports surfaced a spokesman for Cannizzaro said the process would be discontinued and replaced with documents that said “notice to appear.” Connick and Montgomery’s office also said the process would end.

But even if Cannizzaro is not recalled, the scandal has hurt him. He was blasted locally with an editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that called the behavior “especially egregious.”

And Radley Balko of the Washington Post also called Cannizzaro out, saying his office had hit “rock bottom.”

Number of people locked up in rural jails is skyrocketing

Number of people locked up in rural jails is skyrocketing

A new report shows that the number of people locked up in rural jails has continued to significantly increase, making it difficult to decrease the total number of people locked up in the United States.

The report, written by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, argues that the real challenge to reducing the prison population requires reform in the rural counties where the population is under 250,000 people.

This will likely be a surprise to many, with the conventional wisdom being that the major issue lies in big cities. But pretrial incarceration rates in rural counties increased 436 percent between 1970 and 2003.

That is a concern because many rural counties struggle to “fund and deliver justice,” the report said.

“America’s 3,283 local jails are the ‘front door’ to mass incarceration,” wrote research director Christian Henrichson at the start of the report. “But for too long, county jail systems have operated and grown outside public view.”

Researchers who worked on the report found two major issues causing the rural jail boom. More people are being held in pretrial detention and either being denied bail, or have bail so high that can’t pay it, and there are more people locked up in rural jails who were actually arrested somewhere else.

That is primarily because a number of rural jails are now moneymakers for the counties they are in, with many renting out beds to federal, state and other local governments.

“In some cases, jails are even building new capacity to meet external jail bed demands unrelated to crime in their own jurisdiction,” a report summary said. “In 11 states in the South and West, for example, more than 30 percent of the people in jail were held for other authorities.”

Henrichson said the use of jails has declined in urban areas even as their use has skyrocketed in rural areas.

“While it may not seem like a matter of national significance when a single jail expands from, say, 100 beds to 200, these numbers add up quickly when it is multiplied over thousands of counties,” Henrichson said. “Consequently, it is mathematically impossible to end mass incarceration if the jail populations in small towns do not take the same downward trajectory as big cities.”

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Longtime Miami prosecutor faces criticism after failing to prosecute corrections officers

Longtime Miami prosecutor faces criticism after failing to prosecute corrections officers

After almost a quarter century in the job, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is facing criticism like never before.

Her decision to not seek charges against corrections officers for the death of a mentally ill inmate who was locked in a scalding hot shower for 90 minutes has enraged the community and created doubt on how much longer Rundle will be the chief elected prosecutor.

Darren Rainey, 50, who suffered from severe mental illness, smeared feces on himself at the Dade Correctional Institute in June 2012, and guards responded by locking him in the shower. Before he died, other inmates said he was screaming for mercy.

According to the Miami Herald when guards came into the shower to check on Rainey he was on his back and dead. “His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.”

It has also been reported that the shower had been used to punish other inmates and keep them in line.

An autopsy report found the death to be accidental, a finding that has been widely criticized. But Rundle has declined to bring charges against any of the corrections officers working that day.

That decision has prompted a backlash against Miami’s longest serving public official. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party considered passing several resolutions condemning Rundle, with one calling for her resignation.

No resolution passed because there were not enough Democratic Party officials at the meeting to form a quorum. But the meeting was packed with people angry at the decision and critical of Rundle, with many saying she had failed to hold police officers accountable.

Rundle defended herself at the forum, arguing that the Medical Examiner did not believe Rainey’s death was a homicide, and that proving a crime had been committed would be impossible when the medical examiner’s report argued otherwise. She also said the public’s concern about the case was a “mob mentality.”

But two other medical examiners who examined the case at the request of the Miami Herald disagreed with the findings of Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Emma Lew, and argued that the burns were severe enough on Rainey’s body that his death was not an accident. According to the Herald those medical examiners “believe that his injuries showed that he was scalded prior to his death.”

The criticism is shocking for Rundle, the first female Hispanic state attorney in Florida and someone who has racked up impressive reelection margins when she’s been challenged.

The state attorney has also started indicating she may run for governor of Florida, although if she did she’d likely have fences to mend with Democrats she’d need to win the primary. And Rundle is continuing to generate controversy by blocking critics on Twitter.

Rundle became State Attorney in 1993. She was appointed to the position by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles after her predecessor, Janet Reno, became the U.S. Attorney General.

Rundle has been reelected seven times. She was last elected in 2016 with no opposition.

Rundle is 67 and will be 70 when her current term expires in 2020. And if she chooses to run again, a strong Democratic challenger will likely be waiting for her.

By 2020 Rundle will have been the chief elected prosecutor of Miami-Dade for 27 years. The views of criminal justice have changed radically in that time, and the elected state attorneys in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville were all thrown out of office by voters in 2016 and replaced by people who seemed more in tune with criminal justice reform efforts sweeping the country.

But no matter what happens, it is now highly unlikely that anyone will ever answer for what happened to Darren Rainey. That will be part of Rundle’s legacy, not matter how much longer she serves in her current position.

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