Louisiana Misdemeanor Crimes and Sentences

Learn which crimes are treated as misdemeanors in Louisiana, and how they're punished.

Under Louisiana law, a misdemeanor is any crime that doesn’t come under the definition of a felony in Louisiana—namely, any crime that may be punished by imprisonment “at hard labor,” which means serving a sentence in state prison rather than parish jail.

Fines and Jail Time for Misdemeanors in Louisiana

Most states divide misdemeanors into different classes or categories, based on the severity of the crimes, with a sentence or range of sentences for each category. Louisiana does things differently. Its criminal laws separately spell out the punishment for individual crimes. The crime is considered a misdemeanor if the punishment does not include time in state prison.

In the few cases where a statute doesn't specify the punishment, the maximum sentence is a $1,000 fine and/or two years of incarceration. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:2, 15:303 (2020).)

Examples of Misdemeanors in Louisiana

Crimes that are misdemeanors in Louisiana include:

  • a nonviolent first offense of violating a protective order, including a protective order issued under Louisiana’s domestic violence laws (punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine)
  • battery of a family or household member (punishable by 30 days to six months in jail and/or a fine of $300 to $1,000)
  • cyberbullying (punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine)
  • petty theft or auto theft when the stolen property is worth less than $1,000 (punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine)
  • possession of marijuana for personal use (with graduated punishment, depending on the amount and whether it’s a second conviction)
  • defacing property with graffiti, if the damage is less than $500 (punishable by by up six months in jail and/or a $500 fine); and
  • disturbing the peace (generally punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $100 fine).

Several misdemeanors (including some of the ones mentioned above) become felonies under certain circumstances, such as when the defendant has a certain number of previous convictions. (La. Rev. Stat. §§ 14:35.3, 14:40.7, 14:56.5, 14:67, 14:67.26, 14:79, 14:103, 40:966 (2020).)

Statute of Limitations: When Can Authorities Bring Misdemeanor Charges?

A “statute of limitations” is a deadline for starting legal proceedings—filing criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. In criminal matters, the time period starts when the alleged crime took place (although the “clock” may stop under certain limited circumstances). The criminal statute of limitations in Louisiana is fairly short for misdemeanors: two years after an alleged crime that’s punishable by a jail sentence and/or a fine, or six months if the only penalty for the crime is a fine or forfeiture. After that time is up, prosecutors are not allowed to bring charges. (La. Code Crim. Proc. art. 572 (2020).)

Getting Legal Assistance

A criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can result in difficult consequences. Any time in jail could disrupt your life by leading to the loss of your job and even your home. If you’re charged with any crime in Louisiana, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the system, gather evidence to help your case, and obtain the best possible outcome—which might include negotiating a favorable plea bargain to get the sentence reduced.

Look Out for Changes in the Law

Louisiana can change its laws any time, but you can find the current version of any statutes discussed in this article through the Library of Congress’s Guide to Law Online. Court decisions may also affect how Louisiana’s laws are interpreted—another good reason to talk to a lawyer if you’re worried about actual or potential criminal charges.

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