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New Orleans unveils post-Katrina overhaul of criminal justice system

[JURIST] New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin [official website] Monday announced an overhaul of the criminal justice system in the city which was severely affected [PBS report] by Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] last year. Prosecutors from a neighboring parish in Louisiana have volunteered to help the New Orleans district attorney's office and the city has created a new system to call witnesses, many of whom were displaced since the storm, to testify in upcoming criminal cases. The Louisiana State Bar Association [group website] is also providing pro bono representation [court order, PDF] for indigent defendants and will pay for a system to track and organize cases. Since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the New Orleans area on August 29 of last year, there have been 83 murders in the city despite the smaller population, but only one murder trial has been held.

The lack of resources to proceed with trials led one judge to say he would begin releasing defendants [JURIST report] on the one-year anniversary of the hurricane if they were not given access to attorneys before that time. A group of judges has sent an emergency request for funding to the US Department of Justice [official website] to cover the costs of representation for indigents, calling the current system unconstitutional, and US Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) [official website] has also requested [statement] that the Justice Department send additional resources to combat the increasing crime in the city. The New York Times has more. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has local coverage.

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