A New Orleans judge says prisoners who were arrested before Hurricane Katrina struck and are still awaiting trial have been denied their rights for too long, USA Today reports. Judge Arthur Hunter will consider releasing some of them at a hearing set for Aug. 29, the storm’s anniversary. “We still have people who are locked up in jail who have yet to see a lawyer, have yet to appear in court and haven’t been convicted of a crime,” Hunter says. “We can no longer continue to wait.”
Defense attorneys and judges have warned for months that a constitutional crisis looms involving prisoners denied their rights to an attorney and to a speedy trial. Hunter says the backlog is 6,000 cases. District Attorney Eddie Jordan disputes that. “We think it may be closer to 3,000 cases, because the 6,000 figure includes cases that we know are inactive because the defendants are still at large,” he says.