NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Ruling in the rape case involving former NFL star Darren Sharper's co-defendants, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld New Orleans' criminal case-allotment system.
The Orleans Parish Criminal District Court's allotment system randomly assigns cases to judges based on the date of first alleged offense.
Erik Nunez, Brian Liccardi and Sharper were named as defendants in a nine-count indictment returned by a grand jury on Dec. 12, 2014.
Nunez is charged with two counts of aggravated rape and one count of obstruction of justice and Liccardi is charged with three counts of human trafficking and one count of aggravated rape. Nunez and Liccardi are not defendants on any charge in the indictment.
Sharper is not a party to the challenge because he pleaded guilty on June 15, 2015.
Nunez and Liccardi filed motions challenging the allotment system, which requires the random allotment of criminal cases unless an exception is established by law or rules.
While acknowledging the allotment system fulfills the randomness requirement, their motions claim it violated their right to due process because the district attorney could manipulate the date of the first offense.
A state court denied the motions finding Nunez and Liccardi presented no evidence to back up their claims, but the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision.
In a split decision, The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the state court's ruling.
"None of the defendants have put on any evidence the District Attorney has engaged in manipulation in their cases," Associate Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll wrote for the majority. "Likewise, none of defendants have specified or given evidence for any prejudice which will result from their respective judicial allotments, having been unable to even speculate as to why the District Attorney would want the particular Judges assigned or as to any potential harm caused by the procedure at issue or by the selection of these particular Judges."
Associate Justices John L. Weimer and Jefferson D. Hughes III dissented.
Weimer found that there is a contradiction in the parish's argument that the prosecutor is constrained by the defendant's conduct in selecting the date of earliest charged offense. Weimer wrote in his dissent that the district attorney's office has vast discretion in determining the date of first offense.
"The majority attempts to reconcile this contradiction by citing a putative 'policy,' by which it is allegedly 'the State's policy of selecting the first day of the month when an exact date is uncertain,'" Weimer wrote in his dissent. "This 'policy' is not mandated by any statute or court rule. Therefore, not only is this 'policy' merely discretionary and subject to change at any time, but assuming its existence only underscores that the ability to manipulate the system is afforded to the prosecutor."
Hughes, in his dissent, argued that the allotment system erodes the integrity of the judicial system.
"The integrity of the system and the faith of the people in that system are more important than the particulars of any one case," Hughes wrote. "This case will be noted by every attorney, teacher, law enforcement officer, and a great deal of the public. Doubt in the fairness of the system and the ability of a party to legally manipulate the system cannot be tolerated."
The cases against Nunez and Liccardi have been sent back to state court for further proceedings.
Sharper played from 1997 to 2010, for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. He won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2010, and the NFL elected him to its All-Decade Team in 2010. His 63 interceptions were sixth on the NFL's all-time list when he retired.
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