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staff reporter After johnny white put the police in touch with a heroin dealer in two Louisiana parishes, he was indicted twice for distribution of heroin. That’s where two stories start. The first ended badly for White, with life imprisonment in St. Tammany Parish. But after a recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling, the second story has a new start in Orleans Parish. That’s where White challenged the constitutionality of the 1966 state laws that set it apart from the rest of the state when it came to choosing grand jurors. Among other things, those laws allowed judges to choose grand jurors, as opposed to the random selection used in the state’s 63 other parishes. White first won his constitutional challenge to the validity of his indictment in the trial court, which quashed his indictment. State v. White, No. 410-338E, Dist. Ct., Parish of Orleans. Louisiana’s Constitution provides for direct appeal to its Supreme Court when a law has been declared unconstitutional. The D.A. brought the case there. Louisiana v. Dilosa, No. 2002-KA-2222. (Dilosa was White’s co-defendant). The high court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the Louisiana Constitution prohibits the Legislature from passing local laws “concerning any . . . criminal actions, including . . . regulating the practice or jurisdiction of any court.” The ruling will likely affect past cases in Orleans Parish in which defense counsel objected to the grand jury’s composition, and perhaps thousands of others if a court finds that the methods used to select jurors were racially motivated and thereby violated fundamental constitutional rights, said Professor Pamela Metzger, the Tulane University Criminal Defense Clinic director, who led a five-person law student team that defended White. The issue has been raised for years by Metzger and others, but to no avail. “Certainly we intend to argue that our clients who raised this issue but lost are now entitled to have their cases revisited in light of the Supreme Court decision,” Metzger asserted. Melanie Roussell, a spokesperson for the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office, said that she did not expect challenges to past indictments. However, Roussell said that there will be “discussions between the judges, defense attorneys and the D.A.’s office as to how we can handle this issue.” Roussell thinks the ruling will only affect cases in which defendants were indicted before August 2001 and who are still awaiting trial. That’s when the Legislature changed two of the four laws that Metzger successfully challenged. But Metzger promised more challenges to other aspects of the grand jury selection process, based on the prohibition against local laws, and continuing equal protection and due process challenges in appropriate cases. Metzger suspects that the derivation of the Orleans Parish grand jury laws were racially motivated. “They were originally created to exclude African-Americans from the grand jury venire,” she said, “so that the outcomes would be those that the white power structure would like.” She raised equal protection arguments in her brief, but the court sidestepped those issues, affirming on the more technical grounds. But she is not alone in thinking that the laws had racially insidious applications. In State v. Fleming, No.2002-KA-1700, Court of Appeals of Louisiana, 4th circ., the court affirmed a trial judge’s quashing of a murder indictment based “on the selecting judge’s admission of race consciousness in the selection of the grand jury and the foreperson.” The Supreme Court chose not to accept Fleming, deciding it wasn’t ripe for review and returning it to the lower court. Dilosa will likely render Fleming moot. Meanwhile, Johnny White serves his life sentence for his St. Tammany Parish conviction, and awaits the D.A.’s decision on whether to attempt to reindict with a newly constituted grand jury. Still, Metzger said, it’s a “moral victory” for him. Altmann’s e-mail address is: [email protected].

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