The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force's report is scheduled to be released tomorrow. Any criminal defense lawyer worth his or her salt already knows that the odds are stacked against our clients. This criminal defense lawyer is hoping that the recommendations lead to better outcomes for his clients, particularly those that are sentenced to prison.
Look, you will get no dispute from me on the premise that there are some people that deserve to be locked up for extended periods of time. The laws of this state mandate stiff sentences for people that commit truly violent crimes. In Louisiana, if you are convicted of murder, you almost assuredly will spend the rest of your life at Angola. All members of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force (even the district attorneys) seem to agree that the state should lighten up on those convicted of nonviolent offenses.
This begs the question - how do you differentiate between violent crimes and nonviolent crimes? In some cases, it's easy. Murder, manslaughter, felony battery, armed robbery, many sex crimes, and kidnappings are obviously violent crimes. Theft of crawfish, instructing a pizza delivery guy to deliver a pie to your buddy's house without them knowing, running an abortion advertisement, participating in a ritual involving the use of blood, animal matter, or urine, shining a laser pointer at a cop, theft of an alligator, eating more than three sandwiches at a wake, possessing a reptile within 200 yards of a Mardi Gras parade, most of the other dumbass crimes we have here, and many others are obviously not violent offenses.
In Louisiana, there are certain enumerated offenses that are always considered to be “crimes of violence.” It is difficult to justify the inclusion of some of those offenses on the list. Is extortion a violent crime? I suppose it could be but I also think that in most cases, true violence would not be present. Aggravated flight from an officer (i.e. fleeing from police in your car when there are people around)? Intentional exposure to AIDS virus?!?! C'mon man….
Misdemeanor battery of a police officer is included (R.S. 14:34.2). Essentially, that law states that misdemeanor battery of a police officer is a simple battery committed on a person that the offender believes is a police officer. Simple battery of anybody else is NOT a crime of violence. So what we're saying is that if you punch a police officer, we are going to treat the characteristics of the offense differently than, say, punching a non-police officer. I can only surmise that the legislature did this to try and make it look like they are “friendly towards law enforcement.” There is no justification whatsoever for treating battery of a police officer as a more “violent offense” than a simple battery of an ordinary citizen solely because one complaining witness is a police officer and the other is not. Same goes for aggravated assault of a peace officer. Simple aggravated assault is a misdemeanor and not listed as a “crime of violence” where aggravated assault on a peace officer is a felony and is listed as a crime of violence. How can it be inherently “more violent” to assault a peace officer then an ordinary citizen?
Most bizarrely, vehicular homicide (i.e. killing somebody while drunk driving) when the defendant's BAC is above a .20 is a “crime of violence” but not if the defendant's BAC was under .20. So, if the guy was just a little drunk, and he runs over Little Bo Peep, that's not a crime of violence….but if he's REALLY drunk, it is a crime of violence. I don't know about you, but the more I drink, the less violent I get and the more apt I am to pass out. Of course, I recognize that some people are different, and I am aware of the cases discussing whether vehicular homicide should be considered a crime of violence at all. Also, now that I think about it and type this out, I am seeing a possible constitutional challenge here... If anybody would like to pay me six figures to mount this tremendously complicated undertaking (or hire me for anything else), please give me a call at 504.226.6200 or send me a note at [email protected]
I have no idea what to expect or what will be in the task force's report other than information I've gleaned from local articles. Hopefully, I will be able to read it and give a few thoughts on the matter shortly.