Defendants often wonder why a criminal case is taking so long and if there is anything that can be done to speed it up. If you’ve been charged with a crime in Louisiana, the law provides certain deadlines for your case. Local jails and District Attorneys often fail to comply with these deadlines which can unnecessarily delay your criminal case and can result in prolonged detention. While the law places the burden on the State to meet these deadlines, the defendant will usually need to be the one to let the court know if the State has missed one.
If you were arrested without a warrant, the arresting agency has 48 hours to bring you before a judge for an initial determination as to whether there was probable cause for your arrest. This is usually done by a judge or magistrate reviewing the initial arrest report. If the arresting agency fails to do this, you are supposed to be released on your own recognizance, commonly called a sign-out bond. The State can still prosecute you on the charges. The court almost always finds that there was probable cause for your arrest. If you are charged with a felony, your attorney may be able to have a second hearing to see if there was probable cause to arrest you through what is known as a preliminary examination. In the rare occasion a court finds there was not probable cause for your arrest, the State can still come back and rearrest you and submit additional evidence.
After you are arrested, you have to be brought before a judge within 72 hours for the purpose of determining if you are eligible for a court appointed attorney. The 72-hour period does not include Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays. In most parishes this is done over video and you are not actually brought into court. The court can also set or review your bail at this hearing. If the law enforcement agency holding you fails to bring you before a judge within 72 hours, you are supposed to be released on a sign-out bond. This does not mean your charges will be dismissed and does not affect the State’s ability to prosecute you. The 48-hour probable cause hearing and the 72-hour appointment of counsel hearing are often done at the same time.
Everyone arrested in Louisiana is entitled to bail unless he or she is charged with certain domestic violence or family-based offenses and a court determines after a hearing that he or she is not entitled to bail. The amount of bail is in the discretion of the judge and can vary greatly. The judge is supposed to set bail based on your flight risk and whether you pose a danger to the community. The judge will usually consider the evidence against you based on the initial police report, any prior criminal history, and your ties to the community. You can still come back later and request a bond reduction but it usually requires filing a written motion in court.
If you are arrested the police officer will list the crime he or she thinks you have committed, but what you formally get charged with will be determined by either the District Attorney or a Grand Jury, depending on the allegations. If you arrested for a misdemeanor and unable to post bond, the State has 45 days to formally charge you with a crime. The State has 60 days to formally charge you with a felony unless the crime is punishable by death or life in prison without parole. Then, the state has 120 days to formally charge you. If you have bonded out, the State has 90 days to charge you with a misdemeanor and 150 days to charge you with a felony.
If the State fails to comply with these timelines it does not mean that your charges will be dismissed. However, you may be able to have a hearing and get your bond obligation either cancelled or reduced.
Once the State formally charges you with a crime, it has 30 days to set you for an arraignment. You do not have to be arraigned within 30 days, but your arraignment has to be set. An arraignment is where the defendant will go to court and be advised of the charges against him or her and usually enter a plea of “not guilty” to the charges.
Once you are arraigned on your charges, you are entitled to a speedy trial. The state has to bring you to trial with 120 days if you are accused of a felony and 30 days if you are accused of a misdemeanor and are still being held in custody. If you have bonded out, the State has 180 days to bring you to trial on a felony charge and 60 days to bring you to trial on a misdemeanor charge. The right to a speedy trial is not automatic and you have to file for a motion requesting a speedy trial. The motion has to be accompanied by an affidavit signed by you, and your attorney if you have one, stating you are ready to go to trial. If the State fails to bring you to trial within the required time it does not result in your charges being dismissed. It should result in you being relieved of any bail obligations.
Formal prosecution for a crime is began by the filing of a bill of information by a prosecutor or an indictment by a grand jury. If you are charged with a misdemeanor that is punishable by only a fine, the State has six months to begin prosecution of a crime. The State has two years to begin prosecution if you are charge with a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine or imprisonment. The State has four years to begin prosecution if your charge is punishable with or without hard labor and six years if the punishment requires hard labor. There is no deadline for the State to begin prosecution of a crime punishable by death or life without parole, and the deadlines are extended for certain sex offenses.
Unlike the previous deadlines we’ve discussed, if the State fails to bring you to trial within these time frames, it can result in your charges being dismissed. These deadlines can be extended if you miss court, if you request a continuance, or while you are waiting for the court to hear any motions you or your attorney have filed.
If you’ve been accused of a crime and believe that the State has not complied with the deadlines required by law, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney about what rights you may have. Call Rusty Messer & Associates at (225) 963-9638 to schedule a consultation to discuss your rights.