Federal prosecutors in New Orleans charging more gun crimes

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — More gun cases are being filed in federal courts in New Orleans than at any time in at least 15 years, a review by The Times-Picayune found.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which maintains data on state indictments, prosecutors in the 13-county Eastern District of Louisiana brought about 70 new cases last year in which the primary charge was a firearms felony. That’s the highest level since 2007, when the federal government stepped in to fill a gap after Hurricane Katrina.

Carjacking was the leading charge in at least eight state attorney’s offices in the past two years in the Eastern District, after four years with no charges, TRAC data shows.

U.S. interim attorney Duane Evans told The Times-Picayune that in 2021 he committed to stepping up prosecutions for the “worst of the worst,” including those accused of repeat crimes or multiple crimes.

Federal attorneys made 61 requests to take cases from Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams’ office last year, up from about 40 cases in 2021, said Assistant District Attorney Bob White, a liaison with the state attorneys.

Williams welcomes federal requests, White said.

“Federal agencies have much greater resources for identifying, locating and tracking suspects,” he said.

Evans said part of the decision involves considering whether someone is more likely to be detained prior to trial in the federal or state system.

Claude Kelly, the district’s federal public defender, said the high volume of Orleans Parish cases being heard at the federal level is a result of the perception that “people in Orleans Parish are not being prosecuted or that judges are not prosecuting people in the state.” be held in prison”. Federal gun crimes also tend to have harsher penalties.

“I don’t recall ever seeing a year like this past where such a high percentage of federal criminal charges were state court adoptions,” Kelly said.

Nationwide, state gun cases fell 11% last year. In the Eastern District, they increased by 85%, due in part to the violence in New Orleans.

One problem is the increasing use of illegal devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into real machine guns. Kurt Thielhorn, special representative for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in New Orleans, called the proliferation of conversion devices “an enormous problem”. He echoed experts who say they are prone to inaccurate shot peening at rates of several hundred rounds per minute.

“You used to get maybe six, seven rounds or cases to retrieve,” he added. “Now there’s shooting and there are 30 or 40 cases on the ground.”

The lack of accuracy leads to what Thielhorn called “spray and pray”. They just spray bullets hoping to hit their targets.”

Evans said his office can impose a minimum sentence of 30 years under federal law for anyone caught using or carrying a machine gun.

Evans acknowledged that pursuing more federal cases hasn’t reduced the violence.

“The impact is minimal, if not nothing, given the increase in homicide rates in fiscal 2022,” he said. “We recognize that. But we’re just a player. We alone are not the solution.”

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