From arrest through trial, criminal proceedings follow the same basic framework nationwide. There are, however, some subtle differences across state lines. While the experience can seem like a bad dream, the more you know about what to expect, the more prepared you will be to put your best foot forward. If you are facing criminal charges in Louisiana, here are some key things to keep in mind.
We often think of the arrest as the start of the criminal process, but in many cases, the wheels are set into motion with the issuing of a warrant. Without a warrant, an officer must either witness you in the act of a crime or have probable cause that you committed one. The officer has a duty to bring you to the nearest jail for booking. You will be briefed on the charges as well as your Miranda rights, including your right to remain silent.
Your First Court Appearance
You should be brought before a judge as soon as possible after your arrest so that the judge can appoint legal counsel, if needed. The maximum time between arrest and this court appearance is 72 hours, not counting weekends or holidays. The judge may set bail at this point, which would give you a chance to secure your release if you can deposit a certain amount of money or arrange a bail bond.
The point in the process when you enter your plea is called the arraignment. Louisiana criminal defendants can plead guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, or, with the court’s consent, nolo contendere, which means "no contest."
Should You Accept a Plea Deal?
While we often think of criminal cases going to court, the vast majority are actually resolved via plea bargaining. The prosecution may offer you a deal in which you plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence than you may get in a court trial.
Determining if Your Case Will Go to Trial
Before the actual trial, there may be one or more preliminary hearings to determine if evidence is admissible and if there is a strong enough case against you for the matter to go to trial. During this phase, attorneys on either side may make pre-trial motions
What to Expect From Trial and Sentencing
All criminal defendants have a right to a trial. Depending on the severity of your charges, you may opt for a trial by jury, or you may choose having a judge to preside. In either case, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, a judge will determine your sentence.
A Louisiana Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The criminal process varies from one state to the next. The more you know about what to expect, the more prepared you will be to take on each step. Having a lawyer familiar with Louisiana criminal law on your side can make a big difference in your case and your future.