Illicit and prescription drugs are top DA’s challenges

Wade McIntyre
Ricky Babin

Illicit drugs, prescription drug abuse and a broken down juvenile justice system are the top challenges facing the new district attorney of the 23rd Judicial District.

Speaking at a recent Rotary Club of Gonzales meeting, DA Ricky Babin outlined problems encountered and progress his office has made while going about the business of handling over 2,500 felony cases a year.

As much as 70 percent of the crime in the district is somehow related to drugs, Babin said.

“Most thefts are made by addicts looking for a way to finance their habit, and most domestic violence is the result of drug or alcohol abuse,” according to the DA. Escalating murder rates like those seen recently in Baton Rouge are mostly made up of drug trade incidents.

“Methamphetamine is the drug du jour,” Babin told Rotarians. “It is a terrible drug and you can be addicted with a single use. Use it twice and you are definitely an addict.”

Where prescription drug abuse crimes were once almost non-existent, they now make up about 25 percent of the 23rd Judicial District drug cases, he said.

Prescription drugs are readily available from doctors in pain clinics located in Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and other areas, where doctors don’t even see the patients.

“They just issue a prescription,” Babin said. “It’s one of the most prevalent problems that we have.”

The district attorney’s office works with first time narcotic possession offenders by trying to get them into drug rehabilitation programs. Sale of narcotics is addressed by prosecution.

Prosecution is aided in Louisiana under a law which allows authorities to prosecute narcotic sellers by repossessing items they have purchased with drug profits, such as home and cars.

“It’s a very effective mechanism, a tool we have been able to use effectively with the help of the sheriffs’ offices that do background work for us,” Babin said.

The juvenile justice court system operates largely in secret and is set up more for rehabilitation than punishment, but the system is not working, according to Babin.

Though he acknowledged there are differing views on the subject, the DA believes cases involving violent felonies by juveniles that require punishment should be separated from less serious crimes.

Babin said he very much disagrees with the school of thought which says that until a person reaches a certain level of maturity their thought comprehension has not reached a level where they can be held accountable like an adult.

“My goal is to differentiate those cases of violent, serious felonies from those where you have child who has just done something mischievous,” he said.

Louisiana does not have a lockdown facility for juveniles due to a lack of funding, but Babin believes one is needed for juveniles who commit violent felonies. Returning such offenders to their same environment is a waste of time, he said.

Since taking office, the DA said he has worked with State Police to improve turnover in test results sent to the state crime lab.

“We have better communication with them now,” he said. “We call them when a case is taken out of the system early and the test result is no longer needed. We have a relationship now where if we have a case that is important we can call them and get a rush on the test results.”

While discussing four persons in the district who are awaiting execution, Babin advised Rotarians that while the death penalty is still the law of the land, “it is on death row.”

Because of expense, time and resources involved in a first-degree murder trial he said the trend is to “reserve the death penalty for the most heinous crimes that you can imagine.”