Frequently Asked Questions About Louisiana Criminal Cases

Q: When will I get a bond?

A: If you are arrested in Louisiana you are entitled to bail unless you are charged with First Degree Murder. If you are charged with a crime of violence, certain offenses involving the manufacture or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, or certain domestic crimes, the prosecutor can request that the you be held for up to five days for a hearing. At the hearing the prosecutor will need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial risk that you might flee or pose an imminent harm to any other person or the community. If you are accused of a sex crime and have previously been convicted of a sex crime you will automatically be held for up to five days until a hearing.

If you are arrested in Louisiana a judge has to make a probable cause determination within 48 hours and if you are still in custody you have to be brought before a judge within 72 hours. This can be done by video. Most jurisdictions will bring you before a judge within 48 hours and set your bond at that time unless a hearing has been set.

Q:  How long does the state have to formally charge me with a crime?

Q: How long does the state have to formally charge me with a crime?

A: Just because you have been arrested does not mean you are formally charged with a crime. The arresting officer will list the crimes he thinks a person has committed but the actual prosecution for a crime starts when either an indictment or a bill of information is filed. A crime punishable by death or life in prison has to go before a grand jury for indictment. Any other charge can be brought either by indictment or by a prosecutor simply filling out and filing a bill of information. If you are still in jail the state has 60 days to formally charge you if you are being held on a felony, 45 days if you are being held on a misdemeanor. The state has 120 days if you are being held on a crime punishable by death or life in prison. If you are not still in jail the time frame is 150 days for a felony and 90 days for a misdemeanor. If the state fails to comply with these deadlines you are entitled to be released from your bond obligation unless the state can show that there was a good reason for its failure. Your attorney will need to file a motion under article 701 and there has to be a hearing before the judge.

Q: What will happen at my first court appearance?

A: Your first court appearance is usually your arraignment. The arraignment is where the charges against you are read and you enter a plea of "not guilty". Once you are formally charged, either by indictment or by bill of information, the state has 30 days to set the case for arraignment. If the state misses this deadline the law really does not provide much of a punishment to the state. At the arraignment the judge will usually set the defendant's deadline to file pretrial motions. It is important to have an attorney by the time of your arraignment so that your attorney can timely file pretrial motions.

Q: When will I get to see my discovery packet?

A: After your arraignment your next date will usually be for pretrial motions. The state's file has to be requested through a formal Motion for Discovery and the discovery is usually provided on or before the date for pretrial motions to be heard. I give all of my clients the opportunity to review the discovery file in his or her case and routinely provide my clients with copies of the discovery packet.

Q: What is a preliminary examination?

A: A preliminary examination, or PE, is a hearing for the court to determine if a police officer has probable cause to arrest a defendant. The scope of a PE is limited to whether there was probable cause to arrest and the state's burden is much lower than at an actual trial. A PE can also provide an opportunity to learn about additional facts that the officer was aware of but did not put in the arrest report.

Q: Will a motion to quash or suppress be filed in my case?

A: Each case is different and there is no way to know what motions need to be filed in a case before seeing the state's file. However, I routinely file motions to suppress statements and evidence and file motions to quash the charges when appropriate.

Q: Will my attorney meet with the DA's Office to work out a deal?

A: In almost every case there will be some kind of plea offer. Each case is different and one of the things that affects the offer is the strength or weakness of a particular case. Once both sides have had a chance to review the evidence there will often be some kind of meeting to see if a deal can be worked out. While most cases never make it to trial, it is important to thoroughly investigate each case to get the best results.

Q: What is a status conference or a pre-trial conference?

A: Usually, before a case gets to trial the court will hold a conference with attorneys for the prosecution and for the defendant to see if the parties are ready for trial. Sometimes these conferences are done in open court and sometimes they are done in the judge's chambers. These conferences can also provide another opportunity for the defense to discuss the case with the prosecution and for the parties to attempt to work out a deal.

Q: When will my trial be?

A: It usually takes a long time to get a case to trial. In addition to all of the steps discussed above, getting a case to trial is also limited by the court's calendar. Most felony cases in Louisiana state courts must be brought to trial within two years of when the defendant was formally charged with the crime.

If you still have questions, please don't hesitate to call. I'm happy to meet with you to discuss your case and answer any other questions you may have about the procedures for criminal cases in Louisiana state and federal courts.