Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $573,636)
New Orleans is poor. It has a very high crime rate and poor public services. Police struggle to keep up with cases and we have a low violent crime clearance rate for a combination of reasons: public services in New Orleans are constrained by limited resources and police face challenges engendering cooperation with investigations in a city that has a justified, generations-long legacy of community distrust of law enforcement.
The strength of investigations suffer and cases are either never closed or, when they are, they are made so thin that they seriously risk the wrong person being prosecuted and convicted. Single eyewitness cases have remained the norm for most categories of violent crime in New Orleans since the 1980s.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) which documents proven wrongful convictions in the U.S., Orleans Parish has the highest per capita rate of proven wrongful convictions of any jurisdiction in the country during the period tracked by the NRE (1989-present). But it is perhaps more surprising that only one of those exonerations in New Orleans has been attributable to DNA testing and only three cases have involved any kind of post-conviction DNA testing. We believe there are significantly more innocent defendants who were wrongly convicted and whose innocence may be proven with the assistance of post-conviction DNA testing.
Jason Williams, was elected district attorney in December of 2020 on a platform that included promising to completely change the office’s approach to handling claims of past injustice and wrongful conviction. The Orleans Parish District Attorney (OPDA)’s office has 40 wrongful conviction cases at various stages of review and scores more that have not yet been classified. A substantial number of these could be solved relatively quickly with DNA testing if we had the resources.
Experience and data tell us that the cases where postconviction DNA testing will be probative fall into two categories: (1) Cases stemming from crimes committed and investigated between about 2005-2015, and (2) convictions pre-dating 2005.
If funded, OPDA will assign or hire an assistant district attorney and investigator for case review. We will contract with Bode Technologies, an accredited private DNA testing laboratory, for forensic DNA analysis.
We believe that with this project we will have the capacity to obtain probative results in up to 30 cases and that in at least 10 of these, an innocent defendant may be exonerated and guilty parties identified.