Hollywood has certainly misportrayed the way that the criminal justice system actually works. Because of this, many clients have preconceived notions as to how the process will begin, and for the most part, the ideas simply are not realistic.
Often times, family members don’t know where to begin and come to a criminal defense lawyer, scared, because, well…the unknown is scary.
Because of this, I have compiled a basic guide as to what can be expected after someone is charged with a crime. If you are charged with a crime in Louisiana, seek advice from an attorney, like myself.
Investigation in Louisiana
Each client is different and has taken a different path. However, the beginning of the path that lead to the need for a lawyer, always goes back to “probable cause”. Probable cause is a reason for law enforcement agencies to believe that the defendant committed a crime or is involved in some type of criminal activity.
To establish probable cause, law enforcement officers must investigate to establish facts and the circumstances that lead up to the crime in question.
An investigation can last for hours or it can last for years.
Warrant for Arrest
Once an investigation has concluded, if the officer believes that he or she has enough evidence to establish probable cause, he will file an affidavit of probable cause. Once this is completed, the officer will take the affidavit to the judge, along with a warrant. The warrant may either be for an arrest or for a search.
Warrants give the officer the authority to arrest the person in question or to search the area in question. The arrest warrant will stay active until the suspect is found.
Caddo Parish Court Summons
Remember how I stated earlier that not all cases have the same paths? Not all cases will begin with an arrest. Some cases actually begin with a summons. This is more applicable to misdemeanors. The defendant will receive a notice of a court date for which he or she is required to show up to.
This is typically only applicable to misdemeanors. With that being said, just because you are only questioned for a misdemeanor does in no means mean that you will not be arrested.
Arraignment in Louisiana
A formal arraignment is specifically what it says. After you’ve been arrested or cited for a crime, after a preliminary hearing at a district magistrate, the formal arraignment is the day your case is transferred to the Court of Common Pleas trial level. At this hearing, there is no judge involved, only a non-intimidating county clerk.
If you’re scheduled for a formal arraignment at a Common Pleas court, it’s because the magistrate judge decided there is sufficient evidence to hold your case over for trial in the county where you were arrested.
At the formal arraignment, a defendant is advised of their rights and asked whether they intend to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
The first time you appear in court is known as the arraignment. If the defendant receives a summons, the date on the slip is the “arraignment date” or if the defendant is arrested, bailed out and told to return, this is still called an arraignment.
At the arraignment, in Louisiana, the defendant is read the charges of which he or she is formally accused of. These charges do not necessarily have to be the same as the ones that were originally brought up at the arrest or on the summons.
After the defendant hears the formal charges, he or she must then enter a plea of:
- Plead guilty which will mean that you acknowledge that the charges against you are true. Typically “guilty” pleas are not entered at this stage.
- Plead not guilty which will mean that you deny the charges against you and are willing to go to trial to defend your rights.
- Plead “Nolo contendere” (no contest) which means you will not plead guilty but agree to be sentenced as if you were found guilty.
At this hearing, if you don’t have an attorney, the court may appoint a “free” lawyer whose skills and experience may not be adequate for the charges facing you. While there are public defenders or court-appointed attorneys who are highly qualified, you may end up with a newer attorney who is just fresh out of law school or who hasn’t been able to succeed in a private practice.
Private Counsel for Criminal Charges
If you have hired private counsel prior to the formal arraignment, your attorney may appear for you instead so you don’t have to. Also, if you already have an attorney at the formal arraignment, they may be able to resolve your case at this hearing which will end it, and you will have no other court dates. If your case is a minor infraction, the clerk may ask if you want to resolve your charges that day. In that case, it’s vital that an attorney advises you.
If you decide to proceed to trial, the formal arraignment allows you time to prepare a solid defense with your attorney including acquiring the prosecutor’s discovery and gathering witnesses.
While a formal arraignment may not seem that important, it is a critical piece of the overall process and should be taken seriously. At this hearing, the prosecution presents their intent to proceed towards conviction and may be willing to consider a plea agreement.
Sometimes, criminal cases involve multiple court dates. This is where the defense attorney will argue motions on the defendant’s behalf. A few common motions include:
- motion for discovery
- bill of particulars
- motion to suppress
- motion to compel
- motion for bond reduction
- preliminary hearing
- motion to dismiss
- motion to quash
Not every case will have motions. Some cases may require these and more. Again, it just depends on the case. This part of the process is where both attorneys are finding out all of the relevant information they can in order to use facts against the other.
This is essentially a conference between the judge, the defense attorney, and the prosecuting attorney. These may either be held in an open court or in the judge’s chambers. This is undoubtedly one of the most critical stages of the process: where the negotiation begins to take place.
Trial in Louisiana
When you watch television, this is the part you typically see. In Louisiana, a felony may be tried by a judge or a jury. For misdemeanors, the defendant must go through a judge.
A trial is where the prosecutor presents the facts to the judge or jury in order to persuade them that the defendant did commit the crime of which he or she is accused. The burden of proof is ultimately on the prosecutor. Innocent until proven guilty.
After the conviction, the judge will sentence the defendant. The judge may immediately sentence the defendant or may request a pretrial sentence investigation. This gives the option to learn more about the defendant before sentencing.
The sentence is based on a multitude of factors. The factors include the type of charge for which the defendant was convicted, facts surrounding the crime, criminal history, etc.
Shreveport Criminal Defense Attorney Joseph Greenwald, Jr.
With attorney Joseph Greenwald, Jr. as your attorney, he’ll approach your formal arraignment as an opportunity to discuss your case with the assigned prosecutor and negotiate a reduction of charges based on the facts and solidity of the district attorney’s case.
For knowledgeable legal assistance for an upcoming formal arraignment or to have your questions answered, contact skilled, knowledgeable Shreveport criminal defense attorney Joseph “Joey” Greenwald, Jr. for a confidential, no-cost assessment of your unique situation. With a conveniently located office in Shreveport, attorney Greenwald is immediately available to meet with you at your convenience. Call Greenwald Law Firm today at 318.219.7867 or send us a confidential message on our contact form.