Impact of the 2012 Louisiana Legislative Session on Criminal Law—Part 2
Here is the remainder of my summaries of selected changes to the criminal law made during the 2012 Legislative Session. Note that this list is not complete; these are just the changes that appeared most important to me.
Substantive Criminal Law (Title 14)
HB 47, effective August 1, 2012, amends the Louisiana DWI law to provide a stiff new penalty for repeat offenders in some circumstances. Now, if someone commits a second DWI offense within one year of a first offense DWI, then he or she must spend at least 30 days in jail. The new law specifically provides that this 30 day jail term must be served “without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.” That means that the defendant who finds himself in this position will have to serve at least 30 days in jail—there’s no getting around it.
HB 96, effective August 1, 2012, creates the crime of “online impersonation.” This new misdemeanor criminalizes stealing someone’s identity by opening an email or social networking account in that person’s name with “intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud.” The penalty is a fine and 10 days to 6 months in jail.
HB 600, effective August 1, 2012, creates the crimes of failure to report a missing or deceased child (the new provisions are LA RS 14:403.7 and 403.8). This act appears to be in response to the verdict in the Casey Anthony case in Florida. Although perhaps laudable in some ways, the new laws contains some provisions that are potentially troubling. Specifically, under the new law, a parent can be found guilty of failing to report their child as missing if the parent does not know where the child is and has not had contact with him or her for 12 hours (if the child is under 13) or 24 hours (if the child is older than 13). The act also contains stiff penalty provisions: If the child is harmed during the time the parent has not reported them missing, then the parent faces up to 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. If the child is killed during the relevant period, then the parent faces a mandatory minimum 2 years in prison and up to 50 years. These seem like pretty stiff consequences for what could be honest mistakes by otherwise good parents.
This act also creates the crime of failing to report a deceased child. If a child’s caretaker discovers that a child is deceased, he or she must report the death to appropriate authorities within one hour of the discovery. The penalty for failure to do so is up to five years in prison and a fine.
SB 121, effective June 5, 2012, creates the new crime of Domestic Abuse Aggravated Assault (LA RS 14:37.7). This provision applies where a domestic partner assaults another with a dangerous weapon. The penalty is 1 to 5 years in jail and a fine. If a child is present in the household or on the scene when the assault occurs, there is a mandatory minimum penalty of 2 years in prison, without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. The maximum is still 5 years.
SB 243, effective June 7, 2012, creates the crime of failure to report certain felonies, specifically, homicide, rape, or sexual abuse of a child (new provision is LA RS 14:131.1). The penalty for a violation is up to 1 year in jail.
Criminal Procedure and Sentencing (Title 15)
HB 228, effective August 1, 2012, provides a window of possibility for non-violent, non-sex-offender defendants who have been sentenced under 15:529.1, Louisiana’s habitual offender law. Previously, people who were “billed”—that is, sentenced as someone who has previously been convicted of one or more felonies—were completely ineligible for “good time” credit while in prison. (“Good time” credit is the reduction in the amount of time a person must do on their prison sentence when they do not cause any problems in the prison). Under this new law, people sentenced under section 529.1 can obtain reduction in their prison sentences if they participate in certain treatment and rehabilitation programs offered by the Department of Corrections (DPSC). It will likely be left up to the Department to determine how to administer this law.
HB 994, effective August 1, 2012, also deals with good time. This act increases the amount of good time credit that a prisoner can earn. Previously, it was 35 days for every 30 days of good behavior. Now, it is 45 days for every 30 days of good behavior (1 and ½ days for every day of good behavior).
HB 1026, effective August 1, 2012, appears to make second offenders eligible for parole at the same time as first offenders. A first offender is eligible for parole after serving 1/3 of his or her sentence. Under the old law, a person who is a second offender was not eligible for parole until serving ½ of their sentence. The new law reduces that requirement to 33 and 1/3 percent. Note that this law does not apply if a person has been convicted of a crime of violence, sex offense, or as a habitual offender.
Title 32 (Driver’s Licenses)
SB 489, effective August 1, 2012, provides that law enforcement officers can no longer be compelled to appear and testify at an administrative hearing to revoke someone’s license after a DWI arrest. This means that a person’s license can be suspended on the basis of a police report alone, without an opportunity to cross examine or otherwise challenge the officer at the administrative hearing.