Court To Prosecutors Who Sent Crime Victims Fake Subpoenas Threatening Them With Arrest: Pretty Sure Immunity Doesn't Cover That

from the DA:-pretty-sure-we-can-do-whatever-we-want-without-being-sued dept

A few years ago, The Lens exposed a super-shady tactic being used by Louisiana prosecutors. In an attempt to obtain a bit more compliance from witnesses in criminal cases, the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office started issuing fake subpoenas to witnesses that contained (an also-bogus) threat of imprisonment.

Rather than do it the legal way -- using office letterhead with no threat of incarceration -- the DA's office opted for a hard sell tactic that deliberately mislead citizens. The office claimed this was fine and that no one paid attention to the big, bold print promising jail time for not cooperating.

Two weeks after The Lens exposed the practice, the lawsuits began flowing in. Some lawsuits sought copies of the fake subpoenas the office had issued. Others sued over the practice itself. Crime victims, who had been falsely threatened with being treated like criminals themselves, sued the DA. The problem with this is prosecutors are generally given absolute immunity which makes them nearly impervious to civil lawsuits.

Fortunately, a Louisiana federal court allowed the lawsuit to proceed, finding (on very narrow grounds) absolute immunity couldn't be stretched to cover every bit of this nasty, deceitful scheme.

This Court finds that granting the Individual Defendants absolute immunity for allegations of systematic fraud that bypassed a court meant to check powerful prosecutors would not protect the proper functioning of a district attorney’s office. It would instead grant prosecutors a license to bypass the most basic legal checks on their authority. The law does not grant prosecutors such a license.

The DA's office is still hoping to shut the lawsuit down. It appealed the lower court's decision, but it's not finding any receptive judges at the higher level. Again, the DA is pitching absolute immunity -- a complete, judicially-approved whitewashing of all its sins. This pitch did not perform well at the oral arguments.

It was unclear when the three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would rule, but panel members sounded clearly skeptical as W. Raley Alford III, attorney for the prosecutors, made his case.

“Threat of incarceration with no valid premise?” Judge Jennifer Elrod said at one point during arguments. She later drew laughter from some in the audience when she said, “This argument is fascinating.”

“These are pretty serious assertions of authority they did not have,” said Judge Leslie Southwick, who heard arguments with Elrod and Judge Catharina Haynes.

Tough to retain immunity without a lawful premise. As for the DA, he's not willing to back down from his assertions the fake subpoenas were a net good for the community he inflicted them upon. DA Leon Cannizzaro was filled with compassion when he falsely threatened people with arrest for not complying with a fake subpoena.

Cannizzaro also has said the warrants are rarely used to arrest victims of domestic violence or sexual crimes.

What a guy. Material witness warrants were rarely used to further traumatize victims of trauma. For everyone else though, Cannizzaro was willing to jail crime victims until they talked.

The lead plaintiff said she was jailed after declining to pursue charges against a man who shattered her cellphone during a fight. Cannizzaro’s office responded to that part of the complaint by saying the woman was legally incarcerated after avoiding legitimate court-issued subpoenas.

Oh, okay. Given the office's routine deployment of fake subpoenas, it's a bit rich to accuse them of dodging the real ones. Also, someone refusing to press charges shouldn't be locked up until they decide to assist prosecutors in prosecuting a case the crime victim has no desire to see prosecuted.

Hopefully, the appeals court will uphold the lower court's decision and prevent the prosecutors from dodging accountability completely.

Filed Under: da, fake subpoenas, immunity, law enforcement, louisiana, orleans parish


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Feb 2020 @ 5:52pm

    'We will uphold the law, even if we have to make it up!'

    Cannizzaro also has said the warrants are rarely used to arrest victims of domestic violence or sexual crimes.

    Key word there being 'rarely'. Not 'never', as in 'we never sent bogus notices and arrested victims of domestic violence or sexual crimes' but 'we didn't do that often', as though that magically makes it better.

    You'd think that this would be an trivial slam-dunk case, with a DA's office sending bogus notices containing bogus threats in order to coerce compliance, and thankfully so far the judges involved seem to be treating this as it should be, one just hopes that the current judges follow suit and not agree with the absolutely insane idea the DA's office is proposing that such activity is acceptable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Agammamon, 12 Feb 2020 @ 7:50pm

    . . . that contained (an also-bogus) threat of imprisonment.

    Akshewally - it wasn't so bogus. Apparently they were really arresting people for not submitting to their con.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Bersl, 12 Feb 2020 @ 8:14pm

    I remember when this asshat was first running for DA in 2008. Scumbag then, scumbag now. Also, one of the other candidates' surnames was "Bizzarro".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2020 @ 10:15pm

    Some lawsuits sought copies of the fake subpoenas the office had issued

    "You can't do that," said the prosecutors. "We hold the copyright to those fake subpoenas. I'm pretty sure that means all your lawsuits challenging us are null and void. Fite meh, bitches!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 12:12am

    Now calling brt to the thin blue line.

    Now calling brt to the thin blue line.

    Weird how he’s suddenly so hard to find.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 12:39am

    Re: 'We will uphold the law, even if we have to make it up!'

    Leon Cannizzaro is a democrat, no surprise!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 1:25am

    Re:

    we can't replace democrats like him fast enough!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    cevaplar (profile), 13 Feb 2020 @ 3:40am

    law should change completely!

    law should change completely! https://www.cevaplar.mobi/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    David, 13 Feb 2020 @ 3:56am

    Re: Re: 'We will uphold the law, even if we have to make it up!'

    Cannizzaro can be characterized as a Democrat as much as Trump can be characterized as Republican. Their prime attribute is being corrupt people on a power trip.

    Unfortunately, in the case of Trump the difference is disappearing in the other direction. Not by Trump becoming more akin to the party of Abraham Lincoln, but by the party of Abraham Lincoln assimilating to Trump.

    Cannizzaro likely is infecting part of his office with his corrupt self-empowerment, but fortunately the effect is a lot more local.

    His official self-praise reads like straight out of Trump's playbook.

    In short, there are rats of different colors, but the main thing to keep in mind is that they are rats.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 4:15am

    Re: law should change completely!

    Interesting example of corrupt behavior, dude.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Feb 2020 @ 4:37am

    You mean giving them massive power & telling them don't misuse this because we won't ever hold you accountable wasn't the right thing to do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 4:44am

    Re: Re: Re: 'We will uphold the law, even if we have to make it

    In short, there are rats of different colors,

    They are rats of the same colour, the type who when they are elected to office, take that to mean that they are above the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    me, 13 Feb 2020 @ 4:48am

    How about

    Disbarring the DA, not only is that UnAMerican, it's criminal. These douche bags should be beaten.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 4:50am

    I wonder how many fake threatening subpoena's Cannizzaro has given out threatening to arrest people who might speak out about crimes HE committed?

    so he can haul them into his office and make threats and pretend they'll be imprisoned if they talk about Cannizzaro sexually assaulting people, or taking bribes or selling drugs or whatever the hell he's done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    bhull242 (profile), 13 Feb 2020 @ 5:09am

    Re: Re:

    we can’t replace politicians like him fast enough!

    FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 13 Feb 2020 @ 7:04am

    You say that as if Republicans can walk on water before turning it into wine. They’re not infallible, no matter how much you want to think they are. Both parties have their own fair share of contemptible assholes; acting like one party doesn’t shows an astounding level of sociopolitical myopia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 7:05am

    Accountability?

    I got yer accountability right here. This is accountability: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisamnes#/media/File:Gerard_David_-_The_Judgment_of_Cambyses,_panel_2_ -_The_shedding_of_the_corrupt_judge_Sisamnes.jpg

    Not being just absolutely immune from civil lawsuits, not so much.

    Get back to us when they throw everybody involved in prison.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Herr Kartoffelkopf, 13 Feb 2020 @ 7:43am

    There's an even bigger problem..

    It seems to me that aside from everything already discussed there's a big problem with this little pseudosubpoena racket:

    How the hell does anyone in that district receiving a subpoena know if it's real or bogus anymore?

    If I was in that district (parrish or whatever the hell they call it down there...) and received a subpoena from the DA, I would immediately question the validity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 13 Feb 2020 @ 8:13am

    Re: Re: 'We will uphold the law, even if we have to make it up!'

    Much as with claims of moderation bias, your assertion that the political party of the DA is connected to his failure to operate within the law is not supported by evidence.

    While the fact that he failed to operate within the law and that he is a democrat are both true, there is no clear causal relationship. The unlawful actions taken do not appear to align with any democratic party positions. Attaching the political alignment to his failures implies that his unlawful actions are somehow derived from or motivated by a partisan political position. But while I think politics plays into the unlawful behavior, it is not a partisan consideration driving the behavior. It is rather appears to be driven by the non-partisan desire to appear 'Tough on Crime' as a DA by improving conviction statistics. This can feed re-election (or in areas where the DA is appointed, the re-election of appointer, which can feed re-appointment), or bids for higher positions both elected and appointed (state or federal legislature, bigger DA offices, State or federal AG, a position as a judge, ect.). When we say this is a both sides thing, it is because the illegal behavior does not feed a Partisan narative based on political platforms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 9:11am

    Re:

    Kidnapping is a felony I would imagine, or is it called false imprisonment?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 9:33am

    You need to get someone to prosecute them under color of law violations or get Congress to throw another one out with impeachment to dispel that myth with the judges involved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Wyrm (profile), 13 Feb 2020 @ 2:43pm

    Re: There's an even bigger problem..

    ... which is exactly illustrated by the last example in the article itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 11:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: 'We will uphold the law, even if we have to make it

    Nonsense. The democrat party could kick him out if they wanted, but he's their guy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 11:15pm

    Re:

    At least the democrats aren't utilizing millions of chinese internet trolls, that's one thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2020 @ 9:24am

    I have to admit that I have a very big problem with tactics like this.

    Back in the late 80's, I worked as an ice cream vendor in Michigan (for privacy reasons, I won't get into specifics as to where I live) and I was robbed by a thug who had a pit bull with him. He demanded the money I had and took off with a box of ice cream. During the incident, he threatened to sick his dog on me if I didn't hand my money over. I wasn't going to risk my life over $68 and a box of ice cream so I relented.

    His dog was a pit bull and I knew enough about pit bulls to know that you never let them get their teeth into your skin.

    I filed a complaint with the police and let them deal with it. They couldn't find anything out about this guy. Few days later, I ran into him again and he took a few dollars from me and more ice cream.

    Let's just say that it only took me three days and I had his name, where he lived, who his girlfriend was, his phone number and I gave all of that information to the police. The people who gave me this information didn't like him that much and they said he threatened to stick a gun to my head and shoot me if I told the police. The threat shook me off but it didn't force me to back down.

    He ended up pleading guilty after three months of pre-court appearances and ended up serving 20+ years in prison. He passed away from a heart attack some years ago but if I was scared off and some prosecutor threatened to jail me because I wouldn't tell them anything ... all I can say is that prosecutors forget your name and forget who you are after they get their convictions. That's all they care about.

    They are never about justice, they are all about convictions. They have one goal, to put everyone in prison.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Wendell Ignacio, 16 Feb 2020 @ 3:26pm

    Prosecutors fake arrest

    This testimony can be proven very easily. State of hawaii vs Ignacio. This case involves a neighbor judge Daniel Healy in Kailua Honolulu on auwai street my address 640 AUWAI STREET Kailua Honolulu . forgot zipcode. From the begining prosecutor GOERGE PARROTT violated every CIVAL right same legal public defender what's worst judge Healy himself violated every GOVT administrative in for closing my homes mortgage look it up or ask for a complete doc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Feb 2020 @ 12:05am

    Re: Prosecutors fake arrest

    Did he violate you cival rights as badly as just just violated the English language bro?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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