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Louisiana Criminal Law: An Overview

It’s often difficult to understand the criminal charges and penalties that are relevant to an offense due to complex state laws. Louisiana’s criminal laws help to simplify the matter of identifying offenses and penalties, but every criminal case is different. Even if you think you’ve figured out the laws related to your case, you may be unaware of other details that could affect your defense or prosecution.

Use LawInfo’s criminal law articles to help educate yourself about Louisiana’s laws and how they affect your case. You can learn about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, intoxicated driving charges and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with a Louisiana criminal law attorney in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport or elsewhere in the state.

Crime Classifications in Louisiana

Every state has its own system of classifying crimes which also identifies the statutory punishments for each classification. Louisiana has two main classifications of criminal offenses: felonies and misdemeanors.

Felonies are considered the most serious criminal offenses and are penalized with fines of over $1,000 and more than one year of imprisonment in state prisons. Misdemeanors are all other criminal offenses that aren’t considered felonies. Misdemeanors are sentenced with fines of up to $1,000 and one year or less of imprisonment in local or county jails.

Louisiana doesn’t have degrees or classes of felonies or misdemeanors. An offense is simply a misdemeanor or a felony, not a felony in the second degree or a Class B misdemeanor. This also means that there are no standard sentences or penalties for groups of offenses. Every offense is assigned its own penalties in the Louisiana Revised Statutes, Title 14.

Louisiana Capital Punishment

Louisiana sentences first-degree murder and treason felony offenses to capital punishment (also known as the death sentence). A unanimous jury is required to rule for a capital punishment sentence. If the jury is hung (i.e. not unanimous in its ruling), the court automatically issues a life imprisonment sentence without retrial.

If a female inmate on death row is pregnant, their execution is suspended until sometime between 90 and 120 days after she gives birth.

Executions are rare in Louisiana these days. There have been only 28 executions in the state since 1976 and only three since 2000.

Degrees of Homicide in Louisiana

Homicides are classified and penalized differently in Louisiana depending on the circumstances surrounding the killing. Homicide is often differentiated based on the killer’s intentions and emotional state at the time of the act, but sometimes the way the homicide was committed also influences how it is classified. There are five types of homicide in Louisiana:

  • First-degree murder—The killer intended to kill the victim(s) (including police officers or firefighters) while committing another felony such as kidnapping or rape. There are a number of other circumstances—such as contracted assassination or killing minors—that constitute a first-degree murder charge. This is the most serious homicide offense and is penalized either by capital punishment or lifetime imprisonment.
  • Second-degree murder—The killer either intended to kill the victim without first committing another felony or, while committing a felony, unintentionally killed the victim. This type of offense is automatically sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Manslaughter—The killer either unintentionally killed the victim without committing another felony or killed the victim in the heat of passion without sufficient time for reason or reflection. Manslaughter is often called an accidental This type of offense is sentenced to up to 40 years of imprisonment with hard labor.
  • Negligent homicide—The killer killed the victim by criminal negligence (i.e. a wanton disregard for human life). This type of offense is sentenced with either up to five years of imprisonment or up to a $5,000 fine, or both.
  • Vehicular homicide—The killer killed the victim either intentionally or unintentionally using a vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This type of offense is sentenced to imprisonment of between five and 30 years plus a fine of between $200 and $15,000.
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