Louisiana Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal Court Procedures


Understanding criminal court procedures is an important part of understanding your legal rights in the state of Louisiana. If you are accused of a crime, you want to maintain all legal defense options under the Constitution. You are innocent until proven guilty, and being arrested is not the same as being convicted of a crime.

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Police Questioning

If you are stopped by the police it does not mean that you are under arrest. Should you be briefly detained and do not move from your location then it is not considered an arrest. It is important that when stopped by the police you act as politely and calmly as possible. For your own safety, it is important that you always keep your hands in plain sight of the officers. Do not hesitate to provide any information the police ask such as your driver’s license.

You are legally allowed to remain silent, but if you do opt to remain silent you must tell the police that you are exercising that right. The officer should tell you why you were stopped and why you are under arrest. If you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave. If, however, you are placed under arrest then you can tell police that you prefer not to speak until you get an attorney.

Arrest Process & Police Search

In Louisiana, police can search you. They can also search your car. Police have the additional right to search your home. Officers can pat you down if they have reason to suspect that there is a weapon on your person. In many other cases, however, the police are required to obtain a warrant prior to conducting a search.

In order to arrest you, police must have probable cause that you have committed a crime. Once you are arrested you are taken to the police station for booking. This is when you are fingerprinted and asked questions such as your name and date of birth. You will be photographed and searched and any personal property is catalogued and stored.

 Court Appearances

After the criminal charges are filed, you make a court appearance. This is called an arraignment. If you are held in jail then the arraignment is scheduled within seventy two hours of the arrest. You, as the person charged with committing a crime, are referred to as the defendant.

At the arraignment that you enter a plea toward the charges against you. The plea can be a variety of things. The first is a plea of guilty. This means that you admit to the facts surrounding the crime and that you committed the crime. A plea of not guilty means that you assert you did not commit the crime. If you make a plea of not guilty then a pre-trial date or a trial date is set.

If you plea nolo contendere then you do not admit to being guilty but you do not dispute the charges against you. Many prefer this plea to a plea of guilty because in later civil lawsuits a plea of guilty can be used against you. There are other pleas such as not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. This plea means that you will present evidence to show that you were not the person who committed the crime but that you will also present evidence so show that you are not responsible because of insanity.

At an arraignment, it is most common to plead not guilty and move on to other court dates, even if you expect to work out a deal for a guilty plea at a later date. If you plead nolo contendere or guilty then you do not go to trial, but rather, you are sentenced.

Bail & Bond

During the period of arraignment courts have the right to decide whether or not you can be released from jail until the date of your trial. The court can either set bail, refuse to set bail, or simply release you on your word that you will show up for the trial. If the court sets bail, this means that you must pay money in cash, a bail bond, or a pledge of property if the court permits it as security that you will appear on your court date. If you need help paying for bail, there are professional bail bondsmen whose business is offering their security as a guarantee that you will be present for the next court date.

Pretrial plea agreements

Some prosecutors can consider plea agreements. These are deals made by the prosecutor at times which act as incentives. Generally they are things such as shorter sentences in exchange for pleading guilty. Should you not reach an agreement or if the prosecution does not offer one, then your case will move toward a trial.

 Trial

There are several rights applied during a criminal trial. These include a speedy trial. If you are charged with a felony in Louisiana, then you must be tried within 120 days of the motion being filed. If your case moves to court then you may have a trial by a jury if your crime is punishably by six or more months of jail. This right can be given up if you request a bench trial which is in front of a judge instead of a jury. You have the right to a lawyer and you are not required to testify in court. Your lawyer is allowed to cross-examine the witnesses who testify against you.

Sentencing

If you plead guilty or no contest and the trial finds you guilty, then the judge will determine your sentence if the trial finds you guilty. The judge can consider things such as the information provided by victims, laws, reports prepared by officers or court personnel, or evidence for mitigating circumstances.

The severity of the sentence the judge selects is mostly determined by the seriousness of the crime for which you are found guilty. Sentencing can be as simple as paying a fine. This is usually applied to misdemeanors. It can be jail time or prison time, often applicable for felonies such as armed robbery. Other sentences might include restitution. This means you must pay for the damages or losses caused by your crime. Another sentence can be probation. Probation means you are not in jail so long as you comply with specific terms.

There are alternative sentences such as community service or completing rehabilitation programs. Louisiana sentences for very serious crimes such as murder and treason can include death.

 Appeal

Once the conviction and sentencing are complete, you can file an appeal. This means that the trial record is examined to ensure that the proceedings were conducted in a fair manner. There are very strict deadlines associated with filing appeals. Appeals can be filed in light of legal errors such as a lack of evidence in support of the guilty verdict, mistakes made in jury instructions, or allowing inadmissible evidence during the criminal trial.