How Criminal Charges Are Filed in Louisiana

Grand Jury Indictments vs. Bill of Information

After a person is arrested for a crime in Louisiana, they will have criminal charges filed against them in either a Grand Jury Indictment or a Bill of Information. These documents list the allegations against the defendant and then lay a foundation for the charges. The primary purpose is to notify the defendant of the criminal charge and the evidence against them so that they can start preparing a defense.

Though the documents are similar, there is a big difference between a grand jury indictment and a bill of information. A grand jury indictment means that you will go to trial on that particular charge — you will not be able to have a charge reduced or dismissed by a pre trial motion. In most cases, a grand jury indictment is for more serious felony charges. With a bill of information, however, there is an opportunity to request a reduction of charges if there does not appear to be enough evidence to support the charge.

The Bill of Information is created by the district attorney, who looks at the police report and decides what the appropriate charge or charges will be based on the evidence in the report. It is important to have your criminal defense attorney look at the Bill of Information closely because, in many cases, the district attorney will overcharge the defendant. The listed charges can be more serious than the facts would suggest or there may be several charges for one incident. By overestimating the charges, the district attorney has the ability to put pressure on the defendant to cut a deal or testify against a co-defendant.

Filing a Motion to Quash

I represented a person in Louisiana charged with second degree murder. My client did not have a gun or shoot anyone, but he was with another person who allegedly shot and killed someone. Because they were together, both were charged with second degree murder.

After looking at the police report, photographs and other evidence, I did not think there was enough evidence to warrant a charge of second degree murder. However, since it was a Grand Jury Indictment, we could not file a motion to reduce or dismiss the charge.  If it had been a Bill of Information, I would have filed a Motion to Quash, asking the judge to amend the charge to a lesser one. If the judge agrees that there is not enough evidence to allow the charge to be submitted to a jury for consideration, he or she will amend the Bill of Information.

The rule to be learned here is that just because the state has brought criminal charges against you, it does not automatically mean that there is factual evidence to back up those charges. If you have a grand jury indictment, you will not have the opportunity to amend the charge prior to the trial, but if it’s a bill of information, you should have your Louisiana criminal defense lawyer examine the bill of information to make sure the evidence supports the criminal charges. If your attorney can demonstrate that the facts do not support a particular charge, most judges will allow the charge to be quashed.