When I was an assistant public defender, friends and I would wonder what would happen if all the defense lawyers decided to protest the problems with the criminal justice system. What if every criminal defense lawyer refused to represent people against whom the state sought the death penalty? What if we agreed we would no longer represent anyone charged with “war on drugs” felonies? The system can’t operate without defense lawyers. Why do we let it operate with us?
I’m not sure what the best path forward is. I am sure it is time for us to get organized. It is time to start talking. We all know there are serious problems with our criminal justice system. And it is up to us to fix them. How?
On June 29, 2009, the Jena 6 saga reached an unheralded conclusion at the LaSalle Parish courthouse. The terms reflected DA Reed Walter’s desire to move beyond a controversy that had enveloped his existence for over two years. Each of the five remaining defendants in this case pleaded “no contest” to a misdemeanor charge of simple battery and after completing a week of non-supervised probation their records were expunged.
Two weeks later, more than 150 officers, including a SWAT team and helicopters, stormed into Jena’s small black community and arrested over a dozen individuals.
According to Sheriff Scott Franklin, the primary target of the raid was 37-year-old Darren “Nunni” DeWayne Brown, a man Franklin described as the narcotics kingpin responsible for supplying 80% of the narcotics sold in LaSalle, Grant and Catahoula parishes. The raid also targeted Brown’s partners in crime and a few and other low-level dealers.
During the pre-raid briefing, Franklin spelled out the consequences of the raid for his troops. The bad guys “will get put in handcuffs, put behind bars today and never see the light of day again unless they are going out on the playground in prison.”
Catrina Wallace, one of the key organizers behind the Jena 6 movement, was among those arrested.
As her three young children looked on, Catrina was arrested at gun point, handcuffed, and hauled off to the LaSalle Parish Jail. A search of her home turned up no evidence of drug use or drug dealing. In fact, none of the Rambo-style raids conducted that day produced any drugs. Scott Franklin had predicted that his raid would make the black end of Jena look like Baghdad. Maybe so, the 150 men assembled for Operation Third Option didn’t find the WMD. (more…)