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Cannizzaro Changes Means of Marijuana Prosecution

Posted on Apr 20, 2010 in Courts, Drugs, Local Issues

On August 6, 2009, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr. proposed to the New Orleans City Council to pass an ordinance that would allow for simple possession of marijuana cases to be tried in municipal court instead of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. The changes came into effect in late March of 2010. Cannizzaro believes that this will allow “for our resources to be better directed to dealing with more serious charges in criminal court.” Currently simple possession of marijuana charges account for one-third of the 2100 pending charges in District Criminal Court and are punishable with a fine of up to $500 or six months in prison. Cannizzaro argues that the adjustment “saves money as far as the processing of the case, (by not) having the case continuously coming back on the docket (when in criminal court), and…we're disposing of a large number of cases very, very quickly.” 
 Cannizzaro would also like to see the enforcement of simple possession offenses change as well. In this, he advocates for the New Orleans Police Department to begin issuing municipal citations for misdemeanors instead of jailing suspects. This would result in a decrease of the swelling of prison populations, as suspects would not have to be processed through Central Booking. This would also remove Criminal Courts from the proceedings entirely. Cannizzaro claims that state law allows for him to determine the course of prosecution for crimes that don’t guarantee a trial-by-jury and thus he has the power to make these changes. The Orleans Criminal District Court argued against the shift stating that the move would cost their budget several hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, Cannizzaro believes that efficiency in the judicial system should trump the monetary needs of one office over the other.

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