While the processing of an offender through the state judicial system follows a common framework throughout the country, the laws governing this procedure are subtly different from one state to another. For instance, like in any other part of the United States, the wheels of a criminal case are set in motion in Louisiana the moment a warrant is issued against an individual.
The Louisiana State Criminal Code is a consolidation of laws that refers to the treatment of adult criminal prosecutions. Pursuant to this chapter of the state legislation, a warrant can only be issued or a warrant-less arrest can only be made when there is probable cause to hold the accused responsible in a criminal matter. When an application for an arrest order is filed in court, the sheriff’s office has to ensure that the affidavit contains clear basis on which the individual in question is being accused of a crime.
The sitting magistrate deliberates on this petition before signing on the warrant for arrest or for searching a premise. While an arrest does not always have to take place under the provisions of a court issued order, the cops will have to in time file an affidavit of probable cause in court if they want to hold the arrestee in custody.
At any time during the trial, the legality of the stop, search and detention can be challenged by the defense team if it is found that undue force was used when apprehending the suspect or that the individual was arrested without concrete evidence available against him.
Arraignment and preliminary hearings
The arrested individual has to be brought before a magistrate within 72 hours of being taken into custody, not counting public holidays and weekends. The very first court session deals with the setting of bail. Depending on the nature of the crime and the history of the offender, the sitting judge may or may not grant release on bail.
At the arraignment hearing, the defendant is expected to enter a plea. In the state of Louisiana, a person charged in a criminal matter can plead guilty, not guilty, no contest or not guilty by reason of insanity. At the time of this hearing, the judge will inform the defendant of the charges being brought against him and his right to legal counsel. If the accused cannot afford legal representation, the state is obligated to provide an attorney.
Preliminary hearings may also include multiple motions that may be filed by the lawyers form either side. Before the case goes to trial, depending on the nature of the matter, the defendant may also be given the chance to enter a plea bargain. This is a sort of agreement entered into by offender and the state under which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence or the dropping of other charges.
The majority of the criminal cases that enter the judicial system of the state are sorted through plea arrangements. Once a plea bargain is reached, the case does not go to trial. Also, the evidence presented during the pretrial hearings will have a bearing on whether the matter actually goes in front of the bench.
The trial and sentencing
During the trial, the judge along with the jury comprising of 6 to 12 members hears the arguments from both sides. The defense can choose between a bench trial in which the judge is in charge of the verdict or go for a jury trial. While the matter is being heard, the prosecution has the responsibility of proving guilt beyond doubt while the defense merely has to create reasonable doubt that the accused may not be responsible for the crime. After the closing arguments are made by both sides, the verdict is pronounced which can either be guilty or not guilty. The sentencing in the matter is left at the discretion of the judge.