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New Louisiana Laws for Cell Phones, Driving While Impaired, Theft

Many new state laws related to criminal justice have gone into effect as of August 1, 2014.  As a Louisiana criminal defense law firm, we make sure to stay on top of any changes in the law that could affect our clients. Some are relatively minor – talking on a handheld cell phone in a school zone is now illegal — and other new laws are more serious: the penalties for driving while impaired and causing an accident is now more severe. There have also been changes to the theft law. Here is the information school zone sign you need to know about these new laws.

Cell Phones Cannot Be Used in a School Zone

Drivers cannot use their cell phones while they are driving through a school zone during posted hours. Cell phones are defined by the State as any cellular or wireless device that is used to make calls or write or read a text message. Hands-free phones are okay. The fine for a first offense is $175, which then goes up to $500 for subsequent offenses. If a driver is using their cell phone in a school zone and there is a crash, the fines will be more. Sometimes it is not immediately obvious you are entering a school zone, so drivers are really going to need to be cautious with this law.

Increased Penalties for Drivers who Fall Asleep and Cause a Fatality

Driving while you are tired is illegal under Louisiana’s Careless Operation law. The law reads, “Any person operating a motor vehicle on the public roads of this state shall drive in a careful and prudent manner, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. Failure to drive in such a manner shall constitute careless operation.” Under the new law, a driver who falls asleep and causes a wreck which results in a death could also receive up to 250 hours of community service and suspension of their driver’s license for up to two years. The driver could also be charged with Negligent Homicide. The penalty for Negligent Homicide is up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 fine or both.

Increased Penalty for Drivers Who Are Under the Influence and Cause a Fatality

Another law has increased penalties for a driver that causes a fatality when they are impaired by drugs or alcohol. Under Louisiana law, causing the death of another while you are driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is Vehicular Homicide. The penalty for conviction of Vehicular Homicide is a fine of $2,000 – $15,000 and 5 – 30 years in prison. The legal limit is .08%, but under the new law, if the driver has a higher blood alcohol level of over .20%, the crime will be a “crime of violence” which is considered a more serious crime.

Increased Value Levels for Theft Charges

For theft charges, the amount or value of the items taken determines whether the charge will be a misdemeanor or a felony and what the prison sentence exposure could be. Under the old law, the amounts designated for each charge were relatively low. For example, a felony theft charge with exposure of 0-10 years in jail used to be items valued at over $500, but now it has been raised to items valued over $1,500. The other levels are now: If the value taken is $500 or less, then the crime is a misdemeanor and the prison sentence is 0-6 months. If the value is between $500 and $1499, the prison sentence is 0-2 years.

If you have been charged with any of these crimes, you can call our Lafayette, Louisiana law office at (337) 704-2615 with questions. Initial consultations are free.

Thomas Alonzo

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