The Criminal Process
- After an arrest is made by a law enforcement agency (Louisiana State Police, St. John Sheriff, Wildlife and Fisheries, and Levee Police) for a crime occurring in the Parish of St. John the Baptist, the arrest report is sent to the Office of the District Attorney.
- Upon receipt of the arrest report (generally within 4 weeks from the date of arrest) the District Attorney will assign the file to an individual prosecutor who will be responsible for that file until disposition.
- The prosecutor will review the file (generally within 2 weeks from receipt of the file) and make a determination whether a crime has occurred and whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed to trial.
- Certain crimes, for example those punishable by death or by life imprisonment, must be brought by the prosecutor to the Grand Jury for the Parish of St. John for charging by an “indictment.”
- Most other crimes are charged by the prosecutor by filing a “Bill of Information” with the Clerk of Court.
- Once the indictment or Bill of Information has been allotted by the Clerk of Court to the proper section of criminal court, an “arraignment” date is set. At “arraignment” the defendant is brought before the criminal court judge and advised of the formal charges, the right to an attorney, and the right to a court appointed attorney. By law, the defendant at this time is required to enter a plea of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” or “Not Guilty and Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.” Most defendants plead “Not Guilty” at arraignment.
- Following "arraignment," most misdemeanor charges will be assigned a trial date. A misdemeanor is a crime that can not result in a sentence of imprisonment at hard labor. These crimes usually involve a maximum sentence of $500 and 6 months in jail. The state’s witnesses will be summoned for the trial date by a court ordered subpoena brought to their home or work address by the Sheriff.
- Most felony cases will be assigned a motion date. A felony is a crime that can result in a sentence of imprisonment at hard labor. These crimes typically involve fines in excess of $500 and imprisonment in excess of 1 year. On the motion day, the defendant normally has the right to a preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearing, a judge must decide whether the state has met its burden of probable cause that a crime has been committed. The state meets this burden by having some of its witnesses appear and testify. Following the hearing of motions, the case will generally be assigned for trial. The state’s witnesses are summoned for motions and for trial by a court ordered subpoena brought to their home or work address by the Sheriff.
- Frequently, in felony cases, there is a need for a status date. On the status date, the prosecutors and defense attorneys meet with the Judge and “iron out” any outstanding issues before trial. Rarely would the state’s witnesses be summoned for a status date.
- On the date of trial, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney must present their case to the court, which may involve trial before a judge (for misdemeanors) or a jury (for felonies). The judge (for misdemeanors) or jury (for felonies) will decide whether the defendant is “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” If the defendant is found “Guilty,” the judge will sentence the defendant within the sentencing ranges established by law, after considering the circumstances of the crime and other factors such as the defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant is found “Not Guilty” the defendant is freed from the criminal justice system and the state can no longer prosecute him for the crime charged.
- At trial, the judge or jury determines the facts from the evidence presented by witnesses. If you are a witness, it is very important to keep the prosecutor on your case informed of any change in your home or work address.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can the defendant plead “not guilty” when he/she confessed to the crime?
A: Even though the defendant has given a signed confession, he/she has the constitutional right to a trial. Often defendants are advised to plea “not guilty” at arraignment so that their attorney has an opportunity to file motions in order to receive information about the crime.
Q: How long will it be before my trial?
A: The average length of time it takes for a case to go to trial varies. The more serious cases take longer, averaging from 1 to 3 years.
Q: Why does my case keep getting continued?
A: Many victims become annoyed because of continuations. Judges grant continuances for a variety of reason. Continuances are frustrating, but very common in the criminal process.
Q: Why is the defendant out of jail?
A: After a defendant is arrested a bond is set within 72 hours. The amount of the bond depends on several factors and is set by a Judge. The defendant can bond out of jail at any time if his/her bond is paid. If the Defendant cannot pay his bond, he may have a bond reduction hearing in which the judge has the opportunity to lower the bond.
Q: Will I have to testify?
A: You might be called to testify, if you have information relative to the case. An appointment with the District Attorney and/or the Assistant District Attorney will be set before the trial date to discuss your case with you.