The Louisiana constitution establishes a right to bail, but excludes a number of offenses, including nonviolent drug offenses.
State law allows for the use of cash bail in most cases. The state places limits on the length of pretrial detention. The rules of criminal procedure enumerate factors that must be considered when determining whether individuals should be detained pretrial, though these are not evidence-based. The guidelines also call for the use of default bail schedules in jurisdictions. Louisiana’s policies could be improved by implementing evidence-based release policies that ensure detention is only used to protect individuals from a real and present danger, or ensure appearance at trial when no other means can do so. The American Bar Association’s guidelines on pretrial release provide an instructive model.1
Reform the Use of Cash Bail
Cash bail is authorized by law in Louisiana for use in most cases and is still used throughout the state to guarantee pretrial release for individuals accused of a crime.2 Although outright abolishment may not be politically feasible or socially desirable in Louisiana, limiting the use of cash bail to serious crimes may prove beneficial to lowering detainment cost and ensuring low-level offenders are not forced into a life of poverty and recidivism for petty crimes.
Presumption of Release
Louisiana laws do not establish a presumption of release for certain circumstances. In fact, the rules of criminal procedure establish a presumption against release on recognizance for new felony charges and require a hearing to overturn this presumption.3
Evidence-based Pretrial Detention Policies
The state’s rules of criminal procedure require that the court consider some aspects of the defendant’s situation, but some of these considerations, like the ability of the defendant to give bail, are not relevant to the individual’s risk or likelihood to appear. The rule calls for the use of bail schedules.4
Limits on Pretrial Detention
Louisiana law imposes a thirty-day limit on pretrial detention for misdemeanors, and a sixty-day limit for felony charges. Indictments must be made within this timeframe.5 In 2019, the Louisiana Sheriffs'6 Association found that 85 people were held in Louisiana jails for 4 years without trial. Reducing and enforcing limits would ensure individuals are not spending weeks in jail for a misdemeanor offense on which they have not been indicted.7
Ability to Pay
Louisiana’s bail procedures do not make any allowances for an individual’s ability to pay bail amounts, and the use of bail schedules results in disparate outcomes based on an individual’s financial means. What might be an affordable bail amount for one person could be unattainable for another, resulting in de fact detention based on an individual’s ability to pay. Considering an individual’s financial means would ensure that people aren’t detained solely for the inability to pay.
A data portal is available to show local jail populations around the state.8
1. ABA, Standards for Pretrial Release, https://www.ncsc.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0030/34986/aba-standards-for-criminal-justice-pretrial-release.pdf
2. LA Code Crim Pro 326 (2017)
3. LA Code Crim Pro 321 (2016)
4. LA Code Crim Pro 315 (2016)
5. LA Code Crim Pro 701
8. DPS&C Dashboard, https://doc.louisiana.gov/demographic-dashboard/