Ex-New Orleans inmates file lawsuit against DA’s office that helped free them


The New Orleans district attorney finds himself having to fight a lawsuit brought by two men who won their freedom with the help of the district attorney’s office.

The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that Kuantay Reeder and Kaliegh Smith had their convictions in separate criminal cases overturned in 2021 with the help of District Attorney Jason Williams’ Civil Rights Division. Both were released from prison and are now seeking compensation from the district attorney’s office in separate lawsuits filed in US District Court in New Orleans.

Faced with potential liability for his predecessors in the district attorney’s office, Williams said in court papers that his taxpayer-funded office could not be held financially responsible for his past actions. He declined to comment to the newspaper on his views on paying damages for past wrongs.

Legal experts said the prosecution of the exonerated men raised issues that had not been explored in depth.

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“Once the error has been corrected in the criminal case, what does more accountability mean? asked Jennifer Laurin, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who studies constitutional litigation and criminal law reform.

Reeder and Smith have both been convicted in second-degree murder cases. Reeder was incarcerated for approximately 18 years in connection with a 1993 murder; Smith, about 14 years after he was arrested in a 2007 murder. Both were released after Williams’ civil rights division acknowledged significant information had been withheld by prosecutors. Both convictions came long before Williams won the 2020 election as a reformer.

A lawsuit has been filed by two men suing the prosecutor’s office which helped free them from jail. The men seek compensation from the district attorney’s office.

In the fight against Smith’s lawsuit, Williams’ attorneys note a recent decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, which challenged bail systems in criminal courts, federal judges ruled that Texas judges were not acting on behalf of their counties, but of the state.

Williams argued that district attorneys also act as arms of the state when prosecuting state laws and are not subject to prosecution in federal court.

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A person wrongfully convicted in Louisiana can also seek redress through the state by proving their factual innocence to a judge. But the person will face a legal fight against the state attorney general’s office. And any prize won is capped at $400,000.


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