Offenders are processed in Louisiana based on the criminal procedure of the state which is a compilation of laws to deal with all processes that are encountered through the lifecycle of a criminal matter, starting at the issuance of warrants and going right up to sentencing.
If an arrest is made with a warrant, the very first appearance of the accused in front of the tribunal is when he is called in for a bail hearing. However, if the detention was effected without a warrant, the law enforcement agency that has taken the accused into custody will send the arrest file to the office of the district attorney.
It takes about 4 weeks for the DA’s office to assign a prosecutor to the case; this attorney is responsible for the matter till its disposition. Crimes such as those that are punishable by a life term or death sentence have to be brought before the grand jury first. This is a 13 member panel that decided the fate of the accused by analyzing the evidence held by the prosecution.
The defense has no role to play at this stage. The grand jury indictment hearing is only held so that it can be determined if the police have enough proof to hold the accused responsible for the criminal act that they are claiming to have occurred.
In order to charge the offender, the prosecution files a bill of information with the clerk of court. After the indictment or the filing of the bill of information the Clerk of Court sets an arraignment date. At the arraignment hearing, the defendant is told about the charges that are being brought against him, that he has the right to legal representation and if he cannot afford an attorney the state will provide one for him.
It is a legal requirement for the defendant to enter a plea at this point which can be any one of the following:
- Not guilty
- No contest
- Guilty by reason of insanity
At this hearing, most defendants plead not guilty. In case of misdemeanor cases, a trial date will be assigned after the arraignment. Misdemeanors are crimes which are punishable by no more than 6 months in prison and /or $500 in fine. In contrast, a felony can get the offender a prison term of more than one year and a fine that exceeds $500. In both cases, state witnesses are summoned by the court by sending a subpoena to their home or office which is served by the sheriff’s department.
While misdemeanors go to trial after the arraignment, a motion date is set for felony cases. A preliminary hearing will also be held at this point unless the defendant waives his right to it. During these proceedings, the judge will determine if the prosecution has enough evidence to meet the burden of probable cause. Certain procedural points may also be kept in front of the court during the motion hearing. Following this hearing, the case goes to trial.
Trials for misdemeanors are held in front of the judge while in case of felonies, the jury decides whether the evidence is enough to convict the defendant. During trial, the evidence held by both sides along with witness and expert testimony is all kept before the court. The closing argument where attorneys from both sides sum up the vital points of the case marks the closing of the trial.
The jurors are then given time to deliberate on the case and present their verdict in court; their job ends at this point as the sentencing is carried out by the judge in accordance with state laws