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New York Times: In New Orleans, Rust in the Wheels of Justice

November 21, 2006

Tuesday, the New York Times reported that at least 10% of criminal evidence in New Orleans was ruined during Hurricane Katrina.  As a result, more than 500 defendants were freed causing serious concern in a city whose crime and murder rates are now at an all-time high.

Pam Metzger, a law professor at Tulane University and a member of a state board that oversees the public defender’s office, said she was urging the public defense lawyers to raise more challenges about the condition of the evidence and how it had been handled.

“I think you’ll see more and more and more of that,” she said.
Katherine Mattes, another Tulane law professor, said the lost or damaged evidence – such as a rusted gun that is no longer able to fire – could also make it harder for innocent people to shake off charges filed against them.

“What people say when you describe all the evidence problems is how terrible it will be if we have people who committed crimes and can’t be prosecuted,” she said. “But it also can work the other way.”  

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