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New Orleans designates pot, prostitution as municipal offenses

By David Silverberg     Dec 23, 2010 in World
New Orleans - New Orleans has declassified marijuana possession, prostitution and several other minor offenses. This decision is expected to unclog criminal courts and save courts and police millions in enforcement dollars
Last week, New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to label pot possession, prostitution and two other minor crimes as municipal offenses, reports NOLA.com. In plainspeak, as media reports explain, "If you get picked up for marijuana possession or prostitution in New Orleans, police no longer will have to arrest you and take you to jail."
Instead, the offender can be issued a summons. That decision will move the case to municipal court, instead of criminal court, with the hope of reducing the caseload criminal attorneys and judges face daily.
Defendant won't be waiting in jails, too, "so the city will be spared the expense of housing and feeding them, and the defendants' own lives will not be needlessly disrupted, council members said," according to NOLA.com.
Councilman John Johnson said, WWLTV News reports, "We were spending a lot of time arresting people for municipal offenses that other municipalities don't arrest people for."
New Orleans was quick to remind its residents the decision isn't legalizing pot possession or prostitution.
Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton told WWLTV: "Certainly we as part of the criminal justice system want to focus on the serious cases, so I hope folks don't get the wrong impression. This is not a legalization of anything, this is simply a more rational look at crime, being smart on crime, as opposed to just arresting everybody and letting us all sort it out in court."
The two other crimes designated to municipal politics are: "Flight from an officer" by the driver of a motor vehicle or boat if a police officer has used an emergency light and siren to tell the operator to stop; and "Interfering with a law enforcement investigation" by refusing to leave the scene of a crime or accident when ordered to do so by a law enforcement officer.
An editorial in NOLA.com praised the decision, writing, "To fill the jails with people caught in possession of marijuana. It's a misdemeanor and should be treated as such. Arresting everybody for everything wasn't working. Finally, such madness will stop."
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