Louisiana’s new criminal law reform changes things for defendants

Louisiana, like much of the rest of the country, has taken a tough stance against crime for quite a while — but it’s not helped the problems in the state over time. Now, the legislature has enacted new laws that take a different tactic.

Ultimately, the goal of the legislative changes is to reduce the population inside prisons by at least 10 percent, which would save the state $78 million in a ten year period. It also hopes to make changes that will help the newly convicted reform — rather than just warehousing them in prisons year after year and then turning them out back onto the streets when their sentence is over.

Under the revamped system, there are numerous changes to how the convicted are sentenced:

— Mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes have been eliminated, including some crimes involving repeat offenders like prostitutes with multiple convictions.

— In cases where mandatory minimums aren’t eliminated, many convicted defendants will still be able to earn parole during their incarceration.

— Maximum sentences for many nonviolent offenses, including joyriding and marijuana possession, have been lowered.

— Prosecutors will have a harder time seeking enhanced sentences due to the defendant’s “repeat offender” status. Nonviolent offenses won’t land a prisoner in jail for life and old felonies can only be used to enact repeat offender status if they are within a five-year period.

— Mental health treatment and addiction counseling may become the preferred option for people with multiple convictions that seem to suffer from psychological disorders. Currently, many people with uncontrolled psychiatric problems end up in prison because of their behavior instead of being treated.

— A repeat drunk driver on a fourth conviction may be given an opportunity to take treatment for his or her alcoholism or drug addiction instead of going to prison (unless that option was previously offered).

— Judges will have more authority to shorten prison sentences or completely suspend them when dealing with a nonviolent defendant on his or her third felony conviction. Until now, judges had no options.

This is only a brief review of the changes that begin on Aug. 1, 2017. For more information about how the changes could affect your case, talk to a criminal defense attorney today.

Source: www.nola.com, “Louisiana criminal justice reform: What you need to know about the changes,” Julia O’Donoghue, June 29, 2017

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