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New Orleans judge issues delayed order to release indigent defendants

[JURIST] Judge Arthur Hunter [JURIST news archive] of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court [official website] issued a delayed order for the release and suspension of prosecution for as many as 42 criminal defendants Friday in light of the fact that the city's public defender's office [official website] does not have the resources to adequately represent the indigent suspects. If Hunter's order stands, the release would take place on April 18th. While the suspects' prosecution would be suspended, the charges would not be dismissed. Hunter said that Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] could not be used as an excuse for the scarcity of funding for the indigent defense program, citing a statewide budget surplus. New Orleans' indigent defense program, funded almost entirely from traffic court fines, shrank from over 40 lawyers to six in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Hunter first threatened to release prisoners [JURIST report] last July. He released several defendants facing prosecution [JURIST report] for misdemeanor drug possession last October because of the strained system. While most of the defendants affected by Friday's order are charged with drug crimes, several have been charged with more violent crimes, such as armed robbery and sexual assault. AP has more.

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