Shortly after Keva Landrum-Johnson took over as New Orleans district attorney last fall, hundreds of new felony cases flooded the public defenders office, overwhelming the 29 defense attorneys. New Orleans had regained its title as the nation's murder capital, and the public demanded action. By filing hundreds of new felony cases each month, it appeared as if the new DA heeded their call. That wasn't the case, said Steve Singer, chief of trials for the public defenders office.
The flood of new felony charges targeted not violent felons but small-time marijuana users, sometimes caught with less than a gram of pot. The cases clogged the courts with non-violent, petty offenses, drained the resources of the criminal justice system and damaged low-income African-American communities, Singer said. Landrum-Johnson's decision to bring felony charges for second and third marijuana possession offenses was a dramatic break from the tactics of former DAs. And it turned the city’s criminal justice system upside down, said Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf.