Damico & Stockstill, Attorneys at Law

Sentencing reform in Louisiana

Being accused of a crime does not only mean facing the immediate life changes, such as having their name tarnished; it also means enduring serious penalties if conviction ensues. Because the laws are always changing, even when Louisiana residents are charged with one of the most serious crimes, he or she could face stricter or lesser penalties when compared to the previous statutes in place. Thus, it is important to not only understand the elements of the crime the accused is charged with but also the penalties that could result.

During its most recent criminal justice reform, sentencing laws in Louisiana have changed in various ways. This is true for those facing serious charges, such as murder, as well as those charged with lesser offenses. During the state's 2017 regular legislative session, lawmakers in Louisiana approved a criminal justice system overhaul. Here are 10 ways these changes have impacted sentencing laws.

To begin, it addressed repeat offenders. This means that if a defendant was convicted of a third felony, judges now have the authority to suspend or even shorten sentences. This does not apply to violent crimes, certain types of fraud charges and child pornography charges. For first time violent criminals, judges are now allowed to suspend or shorten sentences for crimes that carry 10 years or less in prison. Third, it allows for fourth time DWI offenders to be sentenced to treatment versus prison.

Fourth, these sentencing law changes impact multiple-felony offenders. Those with three or four felony convictions may be sentenced to mental health treatment or other types of treatment instead of prison. Next, it altered mandatory minimums by eliminating them for several crimes. However, in some cases minimum sentences are still imposed but would allow for parole eligibility.

Seventh, these changes caused some maximum prison sentences to be lowered. This allowed for several non-violent offenses to carry much lower sentencing thresholds. Next, it reduced the sentences for some drug possession convictions. For some misdemeanor and felony fines, this threshold has risen to $1,000. Finally, it altered sentencing for habitual offenders, shortening their sentences in many cases.

Being accused of a serious crime often means serious penalties. However, this is not always the case. Even when the penalties are not as harsh as they once were, it is still important that accused offenders understand their rights. Defendants can assert a criminal defense, helping them to reduce and even dismiss the charges against them.

Source: Nola.com, "Here's how Louisiana sentencing laws are changing under criminal justice reform," Oct. 13, 2017

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