On April 13, Orleans, La. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro defended a practice that sometimes leads to sexual or domestic violence victims being incarcerated.
In the state of Louisiana, material witness warrants allow law enforcement to arrest the witness of a particular crime who is considered “essential to the prosecution or the defense” in order to coerce that victim into handing over information. In domestic violence and sexual assault cases, that “witness” can also be the victim.
The law says that a witness to a crime “shall be arrested and held in the parish jail, or such other suitable place as shall be designated by the court, until he gives an appearance bond as provided for defendants when admitted to bail, or until his testimony shall have been given in the cause or dispensed with.”
Government watchdog group Court Watch NOLA released a report condemning the practice on April 12, so Cannizzaro appeared on a local news report to defend this legislation under the guise of public safety.
“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 on WWL’s “Eyewitness Morning New.”
In their report, Court Watch NOLA explained that there are a myriad of reasons survivors of physical and sexual violence may wish to stay out of court proceedings.
“The victim may fear retribution from either the perpetrator of the crime or from others in the community,” the report reads. “Alternatively, the victim may not want to continue with the prosecution of the case because she or he is concerned with the consequences of continuing with the prosecution.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.