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How the criminal legal process works in East Baton Rouge Parish

How do most people find out how the criminal process works? Some people may pick up ideas from television shows and movies, but fictional crime dramas aren't reliable sources. Unfortunately, many individuals learn about the legal process by going through it.

What happens to a defendant following a Baton Rouge arrest depends upon the alleged crime. Arrest files are forwarded to the district attorney's office and assigned to specific prosecutors. It can take up to four weeks for a case to be assigned and another two weeks until a prosecutor thoroughly reviews it.

In most instances, the prosecutor then determines whether evidence supports the filing of criminal charges through a bill of information. Files indicating the commission of some crimes must be handed over to a grand jury, which decides whether or not formal charges are warranted.

A defendant is then arraigned in criminal court, where a judge explains the charges the individual faces and the defendant's rights. A defendant responds in one of four ways to the judge's question "How do you plead?" The answer is guilty, not guilty, no contest or the rare not guilty by reason of insanity.

With a guilty or no contest plea, a trial is avoided and the case moves to sentencing.

A not guilty plea often sends the case to trial. With felony charges, the court schedules a pretrial motion date, which can include a preliminary hearing. During the hearing, prosecutors may use witnesses to support a judgment the state is within its rights to believe a crime has been committed.

In between the hearing and a trial, a status conference may take place between the attorneys and the judge. During a status date, settlement negotiations, motions, outstanding "discovery" issues and other case matters are addressed.

The earlier a criminal defense attorney enters this process, the more opportunities a defendant has to avoid charges and penalties.

Source: 19th Judicial District Attorney's Office, "Understanding the Criminal Process" Dec. 16, 2014

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