Louisiana holds the unfortunate title of having the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.¹ Being the number one incarcerator takes a toll on the state’s resources; Louisiana spent $625 million on adult corrections in 2017.² With the hope of shedding that ranking and its associated costs, the Louisiana legislature passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package, which Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law. The amended criminal laws aim to decrease our prison population and government spending, primarily by:
- Reducing sentences and probationary periods for certain crimes
- Easing eligibility requirements for drug court, reentry programs, probation, or suspension of sentence
- Reducing sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders
- Changing the calculation of “good time” credit for prisoners
The justice reform package changed the sentencing guidelines for many non-violent felonies.³ Several of the maximum sentences were reduced and some mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated. A few examples:
- The mandatory minimum sentence for “Felon in possession of a firearm” was reduced from 10 years to 5 years.⁴
- “Money laundering” more than $100,000 was reduced from a 5 – 99 year sentence to 2 – 50 years.⁵
- The maximum sentence for “Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” was reduced from 10 years to 2 years.⁶
- Simple arson no longer has a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, with a new sentencing range of 0 – 15 years.⁷
Louisiana’s “Theft” statute bases the severity of punishment on the value of the property stolen. The new law adjusted the dollar value ranges, making some of the penalties more lenient.⁸ For example, a theft under $750 formerly resulted in a zero to six month sentence (misdemeanor) and anything more than that amount was a felony. Now, the misdemeanor/theft threshold has been raised to $1,000. Other similar statutes that use this dollar amount threshold followed the same pattern: issuing worthless checks⁹, residential contractor fraud10, access device fraud11, and organized retail theft12, to name a few.
Probation, “Good Time,” and Parole
The changes to the criminal code expanded the ability of judges to suspend a sentence for certain crimes, placing the defendant on probation rather than in prison.13 Defendants charged with drug-related crimes are now eligible for substance abuse probation programs. Also, entry into the drug division probation program was expanded to permit defendants charged with a crime of violence, as long as the crime was not against a family member or dating partner and does not carry a maximum sentence over 10 years.
Inmates will now earn “good time” more easily, which is a way for them to earn credit toward an earlier release from prison. For non-violent and non-sex offenses, the new changes increase “good time” to a rate of 13 days for every 7 served, or an extra 130 days annually shaved off their sentence. Certain inmates can reduce their prison time by participating in educational programs, drug programs, and work programs.
The new law changes the time the defendant must serve prior to becoming eligible for parole. Now, for non-violent crimes and non-sex offense crimes, defendants are parole eligible once 25 percent of their sentence has been served, including those sentenced as a non violent habitual offender. Upon a first conviction for a crime of violence, a defendant with no prior sex crime convictions will be eligible for parole once 65 percent of the sentence is served.
Sentencing Enhancements for Habitual Offenders
Due to Louisiana’s habitual offender statute, a defendant convicted of a felony can receive a significantly enhanced sentence if they have a prior felony conviction. Those enhancements are no longer quite as harsh.14 The mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced. Also, for certain felonies, the “cleansing period” has been shortened from 10 years to 5 years. The “cleansing period” means that after a certain amount of time has passed, prosecutors can no longer use a defendant’s previous convictions against him.
This article is merely a brief overview of what Louisiana’s criminal justice reform package entails. The changes made to our criminal statutes were vast, but also highly specific depending on the crime. The date when certain aspects begin to take effect and to whom they apply will also vary person to person. If you believe these changes may affect the charges you or a loved one face, or if they may affect your sentence or probation, do not hesitate to contact the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm. As former federal prosecutors, these experienced attorneys understand the nuances of the changes to our criminal law and will provide you with a tailored analysis of your situation.
 Act 281/S.B. 220, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051860
 (La. R.S. 14:95.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78740
 (La. R.S. 14:230) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78382
 (La. R.S. 14:68.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78631
 (La. R.S. 14:52) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78556
 (La. R.S. 14:67) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78605
 (La. R.S. 14:71) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78645
 (La. R.S. 14:202.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=508538
 (La. R.S. 14:70.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78642
 (La. R.S. 14:67.25) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=451833
 Act 280/S.B. 139, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051859
 Act 282/S.B. 221, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051861