Comedian John Oliver used Louisiana as an example of poor decision making in his HBO segment “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” After discussing prosecutors’ role in the criminal justice system and the heavy influence they can have, Oliver focused on what he considers misused power by prosecutors.
He used a previous New Orleans District Attorney as one of his main examples, as well as former acting district attorney of Caddo Parish. Oliver states that this district attorney had a “notoriously aggressive office,” and also notes that 25 percent of the men sentenced to death during his tenure had their convictions overturned because of improperly withheld evidence.
Oliver’s segment highlights the lengths that Louisiana prosecutors have gone in the past to charge someone with the death penalty, even if it’s unethical. He calls for more transparency and accountability from prosecutors.
Coincidentally or not, Oliver’s segment comes within months of New Orleans prosecutors facing more scrutiny for using attorney-client call recordings as evidence in their case against a man held at Orleans Parish on drug possession and paraphernalia charges. Ultimately, the recorded phone call was a factor in the inmate’s guilty verdict.
Though jail phone calls are standardly monitored and recorded at Orleans Parish as a safety measure, attorney-client phone calls are being recorded too. Attorney-client confidentiality is recognized on the state and federal level. It is acknowledged as a fundamental right of an inmate to speak freely with an attorney during legal proceedings. Since 2017, the Orleans Parish has stopped recording phone calls made to an attorney’s landline. However, if the call is made to an attorney’s mobile phone, it is recorded.
The use of recorded phone conversations between attorney and client by prosecutors is controversial. Not only does it disparage attorney-client confidentiality, but it also creates an inequality in access to counsel for those who cannot pay bail and meet with their attorney privately in person.
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