A lawsuit was filed by two New Orleans men, who were granted their freedom thanks to the New Orleans district attorney.
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports Kuantay Reeder’s and Kaliegh Smith’s convictions in separate criminal cases were overturned in 2021 by District Attorney Jason Williams’ civil right division. They were both released from prison and are now seeking compensation from Jason Williams’ civil rights division in separate lawsuits they filed in the U.S. District Court of New Orleans.
Williams, who is now facing potential liability for his predecessors at the district attorney’s offices, has stated in court filings how his taxpayer-funded office cannot be held financially responsible in relation to its past actions. Williams declined to speak to the newspaper about his views on paying for past wrongs.
Experts in legal research said that the lawsuits of exonerated men raise questions that haven’t been thoroughly explored.
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What does it mean to be held accountable for the crime once the error has been corrected? Jennifer Laurin is a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who studies criminal law reforms and constitutional litigation.
Both Reeder and Smith were convicted of second-degree murder. Reeder was held for 18 years in relation to a 1993 murder; Smith was held for 14 years following his 2007 arrest. After Williams’ civil rights division admitted that important information had been withheld, both were released. Both convictions occurred well before Williams was elected in 2020 as a reformer.
Williams’ lawyers note that a recent decision of the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals was taken in fighting Smith’s lawsuit. Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal judges in that case, which was challenging the bail system in criminal courts, ruled that Texas judges do not act for their counties but for the state.
Williams argued that district lawyers act as arm of the state when they pursue state laws and are not subject to federal court lawsuits.
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Louisiana law allows wrongfully convicted persons to seek restitution by proving their innocence to a judge. However, the state attorney general’s office will pursue the individual in court. Any award that is won will be limited to $400,000.