New Orleans victims advocates are against the use of material witness warrants to force victims of domestic abuse and sex crimes to testify in court.
However, New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says in some rare cases, it's necessary to put a victim or witness in jail to get a dangerous criminal or sex offender off the streets.
"If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail, for eight days, in order to ... keep the rapist off of the street, for a period of years and to prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I'm going to do that," Cannizzaro said.
Tuesday, the judicial watchdog group "Courtwatch NOLA" released a report, taking issue with the use of material witness warrants.
"What kind of picture this paints for folks coming victims that are scared and want to come forward, to call police and talk to law enforcement if they know they are going to be incarcerated," Courtwatch NOLA Executive Director Simone Levine said. "We think this is a real disincentive."
The DA maintains it's a small price in the pursuit of justice.
"Steps have been taken to arrest that person, to indict him, to bring him to court and they say, 'I don't want to get involved,' in my opinion that is wrong," Cannizzaro said.
Victims' advocacy groups say jailing victims to force them to testify is not good public policy.
"When we arrest them, that's a punitive form of measure," Silence is Violence Executive Director Tamara Jackson said. "There are other ways we can reach our goals besides victimizing a victim again."
"As a survivor advocate, we really feel like no one should be under the threat of arrest for choosing not to cooperate with prosecution," New Orleans Family Justice Center Director of Program Development Eva Lessinger said. "It could have a chilling effect on folks coming forward."
DA Cannizzaro said his office just doesn't go out and say, "Oh, I want to put a witness or victim in jail."
"Is it more important for this witness to be inconvenienced for a very short period of time or is it better for the community to get the violent offender off the streets and keep him off the streets," Cannizzaro added.
Courtwatch NOLA cited 15 cases where prosecutors issued material arrest warrants to get victims and witnesses to testify.
DA Cannizzaro maintains of those 15 cases, only 6 of them actually resulted in the witness or victim going to jail.
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