Aug 152015
Graphic: Ensuring equal justice under law versa the interlocking of different interests.

Graphic: Ensuring equal justice under law versa the interlocking of different interests.

There are only two states in the USA that have mayor’s courts. Those states are Ohio and Louisiana. Since 1898, mayor’s courts in Louisiana have had limited criminal jurisdiction “over all violations of municipal ordinances” reads Chapter 33 of Title 441 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes – as traffic violations, for instance.

Mayors in wards with less than 5,000 inhabitants function as judges in misdemeanor cases, whether or not they have a law degree. Nonlawyer judges “try all breaches of the ordinances and impose fines or imprisonment, or both.”

Like state judges, mayors are elected, and therefore, they cannot always be impartial. But the fact that those mayors also control law enforcement and the local budget constitutes an additional conflict of interests. They are three parties in one and the same person so to speak.

Woodforth in Rapides Parish, a few miles south of Alexandria (central Louisiana) beyond Interstate 49, is known as the state’s speed trap number one. Cases of traffic stops in the USA demonstrate daily how quickly one can land in jail (if not even worse). A woman’s case is reported in the article “The Woman Who Spent Six Years Fighting a Traffic Stop” by Ken Armstrong.

The Louisiana Municipal Association provides the Mayor’s Court Handbook. The author calls mayor’s courts a “somewhat enigmatic tool of justice.”

Judge Mark Jeansonne and his successor
Know Your Rights: What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police
A Black Man’s Guide to Survival

Nov 242014

This reform of 1996 is also known as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). President Clinton was the one to “screw” inmates by reducing their ability to challenge the convictions. State courts are given deference and it is hard to overturn a conviction if the one year for filing has long passed–it is the rare “Actual Innocent” case that can be heard. You need to have a confession from the victims, and that is often not enough. People who have read the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” also have read how much the Great Writ (Habeas Corpus) has lost its teeth.

Ken Armstrong of the Marshall Project now reports in a two part series: Part 1 and Part 2.

Is it not time to do something about it? Why does not the U.S. American people (i.e. VOTERS) get involved politically for their loved ones in prison, whose cases are barred in the courts although they could prove their innocence with newly discovered evidence?!

This might interest you as well:

IIPPI Forum (Preelection/ 2016 Presidential Campaign)

Nov 232014

Similar articles:

Bill Clinton’s Habeas Reform

Routine Character Assassination of Innocents

Need for Statistics of Police Shootings

Gary Fields: “Outside of the basic black, is there any part of the description I fit?”

Book Trailer

Nov 062013

French Quarter, New Orleans: Front of courthouse building on Royal Street. Statue is of Supreme Court Justice White. Photo by Infrogmation

French Quarter, New Orleans: Front of courthouse building on Royal Street. Statue is of Supreme Court Justice White. Photo by Infrogmation

 In the United States of America, the juvenile justice system has become more civilized in the past eight years. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, the high court banned mandatory life sentences for minors convicted of non-homicide offenses such as aggravated rape. The Miller vs. Alabama  decision of June 25, 2012 held that mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers run afoul of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore unconstitutional. Louisiana was one of 28 states, which had made no difference between youthful offenders and adult offenders.

It was clear from that day that there would be a run on the courts in Louisiana by convicted juvenile murderers seeking resentencing. Around 250 prisoners, who were under the age of 18 when they committed homicides, are affected in that state alone. One of the cases before the Louisiana Supreme Court was State of Louisiana v. Darryl Tate . Tate was sentenced to life without parole for second degree murder in 1981. His case and sentence became final in 1984. The question now was whether the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller should be applied to juvenile offenders whose life sentences were handed down before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its June 25, 2012 decision.  

Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who disagrees with the majority opinion of her court, rephrased, “Should Miller apply retroactively to cases on collateral review?”  She finds that “Miller announced a new rule of criminal procedure that is substantive and consequently should apply retroactively, entitling Mr. Tate to relief.”

Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll (who had prosecuted Vincent Simmons when she was her husband’s first assistant district attorney in Avoyelles Parish) wrote the majority opinion. She argued, “Miller does not apply retroactively in cases on collateral review as it merely sets forth a new rule of criminal constitutional procedure, which is neither substantive nor implicative of the fundamental fairness and accuracy of criminal proceedings.” In other words: In Knoll’s view, it is fair that not all juvenile lifers are eligible for parole in her state.

Yet, the courts of the neighboring State of Mississippi, for instance, have decided in their state as Chief Justice Johnson and Associate Justice Jefferson Hughes would have wanted their colleagues to do, too. It still is as it has been before: Many, many motions would not be necessary, if judges from lower courts respected the decisions of the higher courts. Vincent Simmons put it so well years ago: Why do state judges not simply follow the lead by the United States Supreme Court? According to the Times-Picayune, legal experts say that the conflict among the states means the U.S. Supreme Court likely must revisit the Miller decision.

Follow the case of Darryl Tate on the IIPPI Forum.

Also see U.S. Supreme Court: Mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitional

Mar 292013

One of the indirect but important topics of the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons – Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” is the scanty health system in the USA – especially for the poor, of course. The wealthy can afford anything anytime anywhere. At the first sight, the health system has nothing to do with the criminal justice system, but it does – indirectly. Example: contraception. Do American minors (age 14 – 18 or 20) have access to “the pill” for free as those in Germany, for instance? What do desperate underage pregnant girls who cannot afford an abortion or are afraid of telling their parents? Sometimes, claiming they were raped seems to be a way out of the “embarrassing” and difficult situation. However, that is usually where the true nightmare begins for all parties: the alleged rape victim and the falsely accused.

Current District Attorney of Avoyelles Parish (Louisiana) and former state legislator, Charles A. Riddle, speaks up for medicaid expansion and healthcare in this YouTube video of March 21, 2013, uploaded by Louisiana Forward.

Oct 172012

Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson
Courtesy Louisiana Supreme Court

First come, first served. Article V, § 6 of the 1974 Louisiana Constitution lays down very clearly who is the next chief justice to be: to wit the “oldest in point of service.” (Also see the article Who is the Chief-Justice-to-be on the Louisiana Supreme Court? of June 14, 2012)

Former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero  assigned Court of Appeal (4th Circuit) Judge Bernette Joshua Johnson  justice ad hoc to the state’s supreme court on October 28, 1994, when Honorable Revius O. Ortique Jr.  retired on his 70th birthday. Justice Johnson took office on October 31, 1994, has since been a justice on that same court, and was later elected in 2000.

Two months after Johnson’s appointment, Justice Jeffrey P. Victory had been elected to the high court and took office as well (on January 1, 1995). The difference between those two supreme court justices is that Johnson initially was appointed and Victory was elected.

There are elected and appointed ad hoc justices on state supreme courts. (In the federal system, all judges are appointed.) The latter usually bridge the time needed to fill the vacancy by an elected official or to cover for his/ her recused colleague. The future chief justice has to be selected by “seniority.” The question now basically is: Are appointed judges second class judges, or is the service by both judges credited equally?

Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll  (the prosecutor in Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons) is an interested party and, therefore, has been recused from judgment like the two associate justices “oldest in point of service.”  The court explains that “if Justice Victory’s seniority were found to be superior to that of Justice Johnson under the legal theory that service by election directly on this court trumps service by appointment, Justice Knoll would be next in line to succeed to the chief justice position before Justice Johnson.”

The judges in charge have decided that the constitution does not “limit the experience that matters to only elected experience.”

The court concludes, “Neither Article V, § 6 nor any other relevant provision makes any distinction between elected service and appointed service. Thus, upon Chief Justice Kimball’s retirement in early 2013, Justice Johnson, through an unbroken chain of both appointed and elected service on this court, has the most seniority to become the next chief justice.”

Requests for a rehearing may be filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court until Sunday, October 21, 2012. Read the court’s full opinion here.

Jun 262012

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of June 25, 2012, in Miller v. Alabama entitles juveniles serving a mandatory life term without the possibility of parole to be granted a new sentencing hearing.

“Held: The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Pp. 6−27.”

More at

Christi Lynn Cheramie, now in her 30s and a model prisoner, was 16 years old when she pleaded guilty to second degree murder in Avoyelles Parish.  

This might interest you as well: How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

Jun 142012

Judge Jeannette Theriot Knoll

Courtesy Loyola University New Orleans

Present Chief Justice Catherine D. Kimball of the Louisiana Supreme Court retires on January 31, 2013, and it looks as though this is Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll’s chance to get on the top of the ladder of the State’s highest court. Associate Justice Knoll prosecuted Vincent Simmons in 1977.

Under Article V, Section 6 of the Louisiana Constitution, the “judge oldest in point of service on the supreme court shall be chief justice.” However, Chief Justice Kimball writes in her order of June 13, 2012, that “contrary legal positions have been expressed.”

Chief Justice Kimball has ordered the sitting Justices to file their opinions and factual matters with the Clerk of Court no later than July 31, 2012. The three associate justices “oldest in point of service” are recused. They are:

  1. Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson (in office since October 31, 1994)
  2. Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll (in office since January 1, 1997)
  3. Justice Jeffrey P. Victory (in office since January 1, 1995)

“Any responses by a sitting Justice shall be filed with the Clerk of Court by August 15, 2012,” determines the Chief Justice.


The Amendment of July 20, 2012 concerning the new deadline is available at .

Also read Hon. Bernette Joshua Johnson first African-American chief justice on Louisiana’s Supreme Court of October 17, 2012.

Jun 122012

Communicating through the internet, i.e. emails, with federal prisoners in the USA has been possible for 6 years. Now, a privately held South Florida for-profit-company by the name of JPay Inc. makes this faster and (not for free but) cheaper correspondence also available to state prisoners in more than 30 states.

Even Louisiana’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections has opened up to the cyberspace and its advantages for some months. “JPay Inc. provides cost free technology solutions to our nation’s prisons and jails,” according to its profile on a social network. In other words: it is “cost free” to the taxpayer because only those who make use of JPay’s service do pay the fees.

Depending on the state and facility, the offered service varies. Theoretically, a JPay customer can send money and emails to an inmate, attach photos or a 30-second videogram, chat using a video visitation, and buy phone time. Louisiana allows emails with attachments and money sending via the internet.

Prisoners now also have more often the option to submit their pro se motions to the courts electronically instead of through the US Mail. In Louisiana, authorities expect the Prisoner Electronic Filing Project to save the taxpayers US$ 50,000 a year. A new computer program connects the clerk’s office of the federal court in Baton Rouge with the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP). Around 35% of all civil suits filed in the nine-parish Middle District of Louisiana are from LSP-inmates.

Be aware that there are laws that criminalize the use of social networks by prisoners and people released on parole! Anyone can easily and anonymously report a convicted offender who violates this law. However, many prisoners are permitted to make use of services as JPay, Access Corrections, Corrlinks, or the like.

Related story:
The Hidden Cost of JPay’s Prison Email Service
May 5, 2015
By Dave Maass
“JPay […] is charging inmates and their families an unusual fee to stay in touch: the intellectual property rights to everything sent through its network.”

Feb 132012

Innocence Project Newsletter of February 8, 2012

…With Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court took away one of the only remaining means for the wrongfully convicted to hold prosecutors accountable for willful misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their negligence, the Supreme Court has effectively given district attorney offices legal immunity for the actions of their assistants, even when an office is deliberately indifferent to its responsibility to disclose exculpatory evidence.

It is now up to our elected officials to strengthen our existing systems and create new ones if necessary to ensure that prosecutor’s offices are accountable and transparent. Contact your elected officials and demand that they strengthen safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.


Barry Scheck
The Innocence Project


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