July 21, 2015 09:30 AM

Billboards went up at four high-traffic locations across Lafayette on Monday.

As the community second-guesses and harps over Judge Ed Rubin’s slap-on-the-wrist sentence of Seth Fontenot, we’re overlooking a major slip-up on the part of prosecutors — one that could’ve ensured a minimum of 10 years in prison.

That slip-up centers on a Louisiana law that provides minimum sentencing requirements for crimes involving the use of a firearm. For reasons unknown, the prosecution team assigned to Fontenot’s case opted against invoking the statute, which would have required filing a motion prior to the start of Fontenot’s trial.

“We were shocked,” says one of Fontenot’s attorneys, Katherine Guillot, commenting on the prosecution’s decision to forgo use of the firearm sentencing statute.

In fact, it would have altered their entire defense strategy had it been used.

Assistant District Attorney J.N. Prather, who took over the case from former ADA Mark Garber in March 2014, tells The Independent he didn’t expect the statute would be needed in this case, especially considering that Fontenot was originally indicted on a charge of first-degree murder, which carries a potential life sentence.

Yet, according to one local criminal defense attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity, this should’ve been a no-brainer for prosecutors considering Judge Rubin’s penchant for leniency.

“I mean, this is Judge Rubin we’re talking about,” says our source. “Sure, if this was someone like Judge Michot who’s known for maximum sentences, you wouldn’t have needed it. But with Judge Rubin? Come on. They should've known this could've happened.”

According to this report from The Daily Advertiser
, the prosecution’s oversight was raised in a response filed by Fontenot’s attorneys on Monday:

Guilbeau filed a response Monday citing Louisiana law that states if the district attorney’s office wanted to invoke sentencing under the law that imposes restrictions and minimum jail time for using a firearm, it had to indicate that intention before the start of the trial.

Former Assistant District Attorney Mark Garber, who led the case from February 2013 through May 2014, did not file his intent to use that law, nor did Prather, who took over the case in May 2014, Guilbeau wrote.

“To request the court at this late date to sanction an error of the district attorney’s office is improper and illegal,” he wrote.

While Fontenot could be re-sentenced Thursday by Rubin, we should keep in mind this whole situation could potentially have been avoided from the start had prosecutors used all the tools at their disposal going into this case.

But they didn’t.

Judge Rubin’s sentence certainly comes off as extremely lenient given that Fontenot’s actions led to the death of teen Austin Rivault. But is it fair to direct all of our outrage at Judge Rubin when this could’ve been avoided by a simple act of the prosecution?

There appears to be plenty of blame to go around.


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