The Orleans Parish District Attorney's office has a problem, and it has now led to a federal lawsuit. As prosecutors now fight allegations of fake subpoenas, some are claiming the practice goes back decades. What do these accusations mean? Who was complicit in the supposed deceptions? Were people sent to jail because of it?
Were Fake Subpoenas Served to Force Witness Testimony?
In Louisiana, a court can summon a witness to testify at trial. If this summons—a subpoena—is ignored, then that person could face fines or be arrested. However, prosecutors don't have this ability. According to state law, if prosecutors want to summon a witness to speak, they must first get permission from a judge. It's on this point that many are calling witness summons from prosecutors illegal.
According to reports from The Lens, Orleans Parish prosecutors have been sending illegal “DA subpoenas” to witnesses for years. The report claims that these documents were made to mimic actual court subpoenas to scare witnesses into testifying. Worse yet, the report claims that people were arrested for not responding to the fake subpoenas.
Now, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel is investigating the alleged ethical breaches, and a federal lawsuit has been filed. The lawsuit claims that people's civil rights were violated, but the DA's office claims the suit is an attack on the criminal justice system. However, the situation has apparently led to some changes at Orleans Parish's DA's office.
The forms in question have undergone a radical revision, no longer threating fines and jail. Even the word “subpoena” has been struck from these forms. Yet, many defense attorneys are wondering how much damage has been done, and if there will be repercussions. The criminal defense attorneys at Martzell, Bickford & Centola will continue to monitor the situation.