Louisiana House passes criminal justice system transparency bill

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Legislation championed by Attorney General Jeff Landry to improve transparency in the criminal justice system moved to the Senate this week.

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted 63-36 on Thursday to approve House Bill 321, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner.

The bill, dubbed the Truth and Transparency in the Louisiana Criminal Justice System Pilot Program, would require clerks of the court in Orleans, East Baton Rouge and Caddo parishes to provide public electronic access to criminal court records, including all matters involving juveniles.

“Crime is out of control; and with Louisiana having three of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the country, people around our state have had enough,” said Landry, a Republican candidate for governor. “So I applaud the House of Representatives for passing HB 321, an important step toward exposing the failures in our criminal justice system.”

Villio told the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice last month the intent behind the legislation is to expose court records in the violence-plagued parishes “to analyze what is and isn’t working in order to make evidence based decisions about policy, programing and funding.”

“It also unveils the secrecy on violent juvenile offenders … by making those records public,” she said.

The legislation follows several high-profile crimes involving juveniles in recent weeks, including a teen accused of a series of rapes in Algiers, three teens accused of armed robbery in New Orleans and four juveniles accused in a Gentilly crime spree.

The April committee hearing featured testimony from numerous crime victims advocating for the change, as well as Landry, who argued “this bill is simply about accountability.”

“Who wouldn’t want someone who is a victim of violent crime, who loses a son, a daughter, a mother, to not have the ability to seek the justice that you all write into the law,” he said. “That is all this bill does.”

HB 321 would put online records pertaining to arrests, custody, bail decisions, hearings and motions, adjudications, jury decisions, sentencing hearings and the identities of the judges, prosecutors, defendants and defense counsels involved in cases.

The bill would take effect 180 days after the bill becomes an act and would run until July 1, 2025, unless extended.

“I am thankful for the leadership of representative Villio and the bravery of crime victims who have shared their stories to help us get closer to solutions for the violent crime destroying Louisiana,” Landry said following the House vote. “The public deserves to know how hardened juvenile offenders are being allowed to recommit crimes of violence, what judges are setting low bail for violent criminals and how often district attorneys are refusing or pleading down these cases.”

HB 321 is backed by the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, district attorneys and VOTE. The Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Vera Institute of Justice and ACLU of Louisiana oppose the bill over concerns about how it would impact juvenile offenders.

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