In East Baton Rouge, some people appearing before Judge Fred Crifasi, of the 19th Judicial District Court, are being afforded the opportunity to get vaccinated in lieu of certain community service hours.
The judge began offering the alternative earlier this week, amid a surge in case numbers in Louisiana. In that time, roughly 19,000 cases have been reported in the state. Louisiana is among states with the highest daily reported cases per capita in the nation, according to date from The Washington Post.
“Getting vaccinated is a service to the community,” Judge Crifasi said in a statement. “So, if a probation candidate is inclined to get vaccinated, I will grant credit for that effort toward any requirement of community service. The amount of hours varies and depends on the person’s circumstances.”
Baton Rouge attorney Ashley Greenhouse said one of her clients was offered the opportunity to get a vaccination during a court appearance on Monday.
“My client had four hours of community service remaining and the judge offered it to him and then reset the matter,” said Greenhouse. “He said if my client returned and showed proof he had been vaccinated he would receive credit for his community service hours. He was very clear that this was just an alternative.”
With the rapid spread of the delta variant, many cities and states are implementing renewed mask mandates and other steps to curb infection rates. Federal and state agencies as well as private companies are implementing vaccination mandates. The courtroom offers in Baton Rouge, however, are strictly voluntary.
“A judge has a lot of sentencing discretion when it comes to community service,” said Franz Borghardt, a Baton Rouge defense attorney. “It’s an option, not a mandate. If you decide you don’t want it, you don’t have to get it.”
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office supports the vaccination deals.
“I think it is surely a viable option given where we are at,” said Moore. “We’d like to keep our courthouse population safe and our inmates safe so this would maybe be one way to do it.”
Moore added that many community service obligations might involve interacting with populations that have lacked access to vaccines.
“You are in group behavior in a lot of situations. In community service there are a lot of times where you might be in soup kitchens, maybe some folks that might not be as able to obtain a vaccine as others,” said Moore.
Community service obligations are normally attached to misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenses. Judges are given wide ranges of discretion in their rulings. Moore said some judges had offered defendants the opportunity to donate blood during blood shortage in lieu of other punishment.
Greenhouse said her client thanked the judge for his offer. In 60 days, he will make another appearance in court before Crifasi, vaccination card in hand or having otherwise fulfilled his obligation to the court.
“Community service is about being a good neighbor,” said Greenhouse. “And getting a vaccine this season, I can’t think of a better way to be a good neighbor.”