Last Modified: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 5:52 PM
Traditional courtroom adversaries joined forces recently to support legislation that one lobbyist labeled ‘‘the biggest change in criminal law Louisiana has made in decades.’’
House Bill 371 by state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, which was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal last week, seeks to make uniform the investigation information that both prosecutors and defense attorneys should have at their disposal. It also standardized how that information will be turned over.
Lopinto said the intent is to ensure that defendants around the state are treated the same.
‘‘It eliminates lawsuits and appeals,’’ said Lopinto, who is chairman of the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice. ‘‘It’s easy for a defendant to say, ‘If I would have known about that, I would have made a different argument.’ This takes away that ability.’’
The bill mandates that law enforcement give all of their witness statements to the defense attorney in a case. Prosecutors would be allowed to protect the identity of witnesses if they believed disclosure would put the witness at risk of retaliation.
George Steimel, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said full disclosure of the investigation facts helps lawyers better understand the case and gives them more areas to investigate. He believes it will lead to more efficient trials and fewer appeals.
He said both defense attorneys and prosecutors agree that both sides need better information prior to the opening of a trial,
Pete Adams, longtime executive director of the Louisiana District Attorney Association, said the greater transparency would likely lead to more defendants pleading guilty.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been working on the issues for years. HB 371 was crafted before this regular session after both sides made concessions.
The American Bar Association has been advocating similar legislation around the country.
Adams said the sharing of information should reduce ‘‘Perry Mason’’ moments when cases are turned upside down by the appearance of last-minute witnesses.
This cooperative spirit by both prosecutors and defense attorneys is laudable, and it should lead to trials that are fairer and justice that is dispensed with more equality.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.