The Calcasieu Parish district attorney said he would like to see more cases go to trial in the new year.
Speaking about the past year and his office’s goal for 2013, John DeRosier said he wants prosecutors and judges to have more control of the dockets to see cases go to trial more swiftly.
“One of the problems we always have is getting these felony cases to trial,” he said. “The reason for that is, historically, defendants who were charged with serious felonies simply won’t plead guilty until they see that jury walk into that courtroom and you can imagine what that does to the system.”
The court has already begun to try to move cases along through case management conferences, where plea agreements can be reached, DeRosier said. He said the conferences were “spearheaded” by the judges.
DeRosier said the goal is to move most of the cases through pleas, but “there needs to come a time when we have a conference and we need to tell the defendant as prosecutors and the judge needs to tell the defendant, this is the way it’s going to be. This is as good as it’s going to get. Either plead guilty to this or we’re going to trial. There will be no further offer, no deal.”
Not having a jury waiting in the wings only to have a plea deal reached would be a savings, he said.
“That’s a lot of people that we inconvenience to come up here,” DeRosier said.
He said he would also like to combine right-to-counsel court and probable-cause court — which he said would “streamline the misdemeanor process.”
Representatives of the District Attorney’s Office visited Harris County, Texas, which holds a combined court. “They disposed of a vast majority of their misdemeanor cases in a few days,” DeRosier said.
That would free the office to “move on to cases like significant violent felony cases,” DeRosier said.
DeRosier lists the parish’s DWI pretrial diversion program among his office’s top successes of the past year.
He said 1,600 DWIs were handled by the office last year. To get into the pretrial diversion program, entrants must meet and follow “strict guidelines,” he said.
Twelve percent of those who enter the program were kicked out, he said. But of the 88 percent that made it through, there was a 1 percent recidivism rate, according to a three-year study, he said.
“Our goal is not to put impaired drivers in prison or in jail, but to keep impaired drivers off the highway,” DeRosier said.
He said the nationwide DWI recidivism rate is 15 percent to 20 percent.
“Our overall mission is to try to make Calcasieu a better and safer place for everybody to live and raise their families, and impaired drivers are a good place to start,” DeRosier said. “With help and cooperation of all of our law enforcement agencies, we’ve really done a remarkable job and stuck with it.”
He said the number of deaths by drug overdose in Calcasieu remained the same as last year — 21 — down from 60 in 2007. He credited that to the work of law enforcement to keep pills from entering the state from Texas.
He said if a person is doctor-shopping in Texas, “they’re going to be hard-pressed to bring it back and get (a prescription) filled in Calcasieu Parish, or anywhere in Southwest Louisiana. We greatly heightened the attention that’s paid to all of these out-of-state drugs and prescriptions with all of the help from law enforcement.”
DeRosier said his office has made some moves in how it handles cases. Historically there was a prosecutor for each of the six felony divisions, as well as special prosecutors for drugs, child abuse and domestic violence.
But felony and misdemeanor lawyers are now paired in each division, DeRosier said.
He said the move helps felony prosecutors move their caseloads and gives misdemeanor lawyers cross-training.
“That has worked well,” DeRosier said. “I think that’s one of the best things we’ve done relative to personnel.”