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Taking Louisiana misdemeanor charges seriously

Louisiana law defines felonies as crimes punishable by prison time or death. The state's legal definitions of crimes are simple: all offenses not classified as felonies are misdemeanors. Misdemeanor sentences may include fines, probation and sometimes jail but not time in state prison.

Some defendants believe minor criminal offenses are too inconsequential to contact a defense attorney. A substantial number of defendants don't fight misdemeanor charges, even when evidence is lacking to establish guilt. Getting through the legal process quickly seems more important to some defendants than seeking legal advice or taking a stand.

Misdemeanors are minor offenses compared to felonies, but consequences for convictions last longer than defendants often realize. A criminal record survives after terms of a sentence are satisfied. Convicted defendants may be denied employment opportunities, loans, child custody, government benefits or housing.

Misdemeanor cases outnumber felony cases by about 4-to-1 or 5-to-1 in many states. Overbooked courts want to dispense of misdemeanor caseloads as quickly as possible. According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the result is a legal system that pressures misdemeanor defendants, often with little or no legal advice, to plead guilty.

Prosecutors frequently don't spend time reviewing misdemeanor cases to decide whether charges are justified. Claims by police may be assumed to be true. Studies have shown prosecutors nationwide automatically approve up to 96 percent of misdemeanor cases.

An estimated 80 percent of defendants are unable to afford bail. Defendants can be in jail for months before their cases are heard. Pleading guilty becomes attractive, even for innocent defendants, to avoid indefinite incarceration and return to work and family.

It's advantageous to the legal system for misdemeanor cases to be processed quickly – not so beneficial for individual defendants. A criminal defense attorney's advice may make a difference in how your misdemeanor case is handled. In some instances, immediate and long-term consequences can be avoided.

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