Crime Committed Police Notified
Most reported crimes are investigated by the local police or the parish sheriff. A few types of crime may be investigated by other agencies.
Investigation may include interviewing victims, witnesses, suspects; collecting physical evidence; visiting, viewing, photographing, measuring the crime scene; identifying suspects through line-ups.
Police Make an Arrest (or Request a Warrant)
When a crime is committed in a police officer’s presence — or he has probable cause to believe that certain misdemeanors or any felony was committed that he did not see happen — an officer may arrest a suspect on the spot without an arrest warrant. The officer will later submit an investigative report to the District Attorney, suggesting potential charges to be authorized.
The suspect can bond out of jail. If he does, he is released. If not, he stays in the jail. See our Bond section for further detail.
Charges Presented for Review by District Attorney – The Screening Process
Most cases begin with an investigative report. At this stage, the Prosecutor determines whether a person should be charged formally with a crime and, if so, what the crime should be. (Police do not issue formal charges, prosecutors do.) The District Attorney or his assistants must thoroughly review all reports and records concerning the case, including witness statements. The Prosecutor also reviews the suspect’s prior criminal or traffic record. Occasionally, the reviewing Prosecutor may send the case back to the police to conduct additional investigation.
A Prosecutor can file a Bill of Information or seek a Bill of Indictment if he reasonably believes probable cause exists that the suspect committed the offense. Decisions are made based on the legally admissible evidence available at the time of the review. The Bill of Indictment is sought if the law requires and the ADA Screener determines the case should go before a Grand Jury. The Bill of Information is filed in the District Court and signed by a prosecuting attorney. (The crime victim does not sign the complaint.) It is then set for arraignment.
This is the first court appearance for any misdemeanor or felony. Once charged, the defendant appears for arraignment. At arraignment, the defendant is told what the charge(s) is (are), and is advised of his constitutional right to an attorney. The charging document is called a Bill of Information or Indictment. The conditions and amount of bond are determined. In some cases — generally based on the nature of the charge — the Judge imposes conditions on the bond, such as “no contact” with the victim. Bond is set in almost every case, but it is up to the defendant’s own resources to post the bail money, which allows him to be released. All further pre-trial procedures are determined by whether the defendant is charged with a felony or misdemeanor.
At a misdemeanor arraignment, the defendant will be given a chance to enter a plea to the charge: plead guilty or plead not guilty. If he pleads guilty, the Judge may sentence him on the spot or may reschedule the case for a sentencing date. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will be scheduled for trial.
At an arraignment, the defendant is given formal notice of the charges against him. The charging document is called a Bill of Information. Defendant is given a chance to enter a plea to the charge: plead guilty or plead not guilty. If he pleads guilty, the Judge may sentence him on the spot or may reschedule the case for a sentencing date. If a plea bargain is going to be offered by the Prosecutor, the victim will be advised about the recommendation of sentence before it is offered. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will be scheduled for trial. Victims have right in relation to misdemeanor charges too.
A Prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney meet to determine whether the case will go to trial or be resolved with a plea.
As with misdemeanors, the District Court Judge may be asked to resolve pre-trial issues, some of which determine whether the case will continue to a trial, be resolved with a plea, or be dismissed.
Trial (Jury or Bench/Judge)
A trial is an adversary proceeding in which the Prosecutor must present evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to prove his or her innocence or to present any evidence, but may challenge the accuracy of the Prosecutor’s evidence. Sometimes a defendant requests that a Judge listen to the evidence and decide the case without a jury; this is called a “bench trial” or a non-jury trial. In a jury trial, the jury is the “trier of fact”; in a bench trial, the judge is. After the evidence is presented, the judge or a jury will determine whether the evidence proved that the defendant committed the crime. Here is a general outline of the steps in a jury trial:
- Residents of Washington and St. Tammany Parishes are randomly selected and are summoned to the Jury Pool Room.
- A blind draw selects a panel from that group.
- The Judge, Prosecutor and defense attorney question the prospective jurors about their backgrounds and beliefs.
- After jurors are picked, the Judge administers an oath to the jury.
- The Prosecutor gives an opening statement to outline his case and evidence to the jury.
- The defense may give a similar opening statement.
- The Prosecutor calls his witnesses, which the defense may cross examine.
- The defense may call witnesses, if it wants, and the Prosecutor may cross-examine
- The Prosecutor may present “rebuttal” witnesses/evidence to challenge evidence presented by the
- The Prosecutor presents a closing summary to the jury
- The defense attorney presents a closing summary to the jury;
- The Prosecutor may present a rebuttal argument to the jury to respond to the defendant’s attorney’s closing argument.
- The judge gives the jury detailed legal instructions about the charged crimes, the deliberation process, etc
- The jury deliberates and returns a verdict or if no verdict a mis-trial is declared and the process of trial begins anew at a later date.
Also see our Specialty Courts pages as they sometimes play a role in sentencing.
The judge may consider recommendations from the prosecutor, and sometimes the information in the pre-sentence report before determining the sentence. The parties may correct factual errors in the pre-sentence report and offer additional evidence relevant to the judge’s sentencing decision. The judge may consider different alternatives, such as a fine, probation, community service, a sentence to jail or prison, or a combination. Louisiana has habitual offender laws that enhance punishment for repeat offenders.