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.
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).)
Crimes that are misdemeanors in Louisiana include:
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).)
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).)
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.