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How Long Does the District Attorney Have to Prosecute?

My criminal defense clients are often surprised about how long it takes the State to bring them to trial.  In some cases, you may not want to rush to trial.  For example, if there is a lot of evidence against the defendant, it could be better to push the case back in the hopes that new, more favorable, evidence comes to light or negative evidence is discredited.    However, if the defendant is innocent, or particularly if they are in jail, it would be better for criminal defense lawyer to make sure the State follows all time limitations.

In Louisiana, the State has specific time limitations for prosecution based on the severity of the criminal charge.  For serious felonies — which are punishable by imprisonment at hard labor but do not carry the possibility of life imprisonment — the State has six years from the date of the crime to begin prosecuting that individual. Examples of serious felonies could include attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, or simple burglary.  So, for example, in Louisiana, if someone breaks into a car and steals the CD player, the State would have six years from the date of the theft to file prosecution charges against the defendant. For lesser felonies — felonies not necessarily punishable by imprisonment of hard labor — the prosecution has four years.

For most misdemeanors, including possession of marijuana, shoplifting, simple battery, and theft under $300, the State has two years in which to prosecute.  For misdemeanors where there is only the punishment of a fine or forfeiture, the State has only six months.

There are two situations where there usually are no time limitations: extremely serious felonies and sex crimes. Felonies that have the possibility of life imprisonment or the death penalty, such as first degree murder, second degree murder and aggravated rape, have no time limit for prosecution.

Prosecution for any sex offense may be commenced beyond the time limitations if the identity of the offender is established through the use of a DNA profile after expiration of the time limitation. This happens frequently now that a DNA database has been established.  For example, if there is a DNA match in 1997 for an attempted rape that occurred in 1985, this is obviously way beyond the six year limitation.  Nonetheless, the State may prosecute due to this exception to the general time limitations.

Thomas Alonzo

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