BATON ROUGE, LA (BRPROUD) A bill that would limit how long someone is held in jail without charges narrowly advanced on to the next step at the capitol Thursday.
The issue being presented by Representative Edward ‘Ted’ James’ bill is that when someone is arrested they can be held from 45-120 days without charges. This allows for law enforcement and attorneys to gather their evidence and determine if there should be any charges. The Representative said this is far too long for potentially innocent people to be held in jail.
The bill proposes to limit the number of days in jail without charges to 5-30 days, with an option for an extension if needed. Rep. James said people, often coming from poverty, can’t afford bail and miss out on work or taking care of their families.
The District Attorney’s Association said the time is needed to make sure there is sufficient evidence to present charges or release someone. They estimate about 40% of people arrested don’t end up charged in the state.
“Joe Blow on the street we are asking him to suffer because all these folks that he is paying by his tax dollars simply don’t want to do their jobs faster,” Rep. James said.
But the DA’s Association said it is not a matter of people not working fast enough to process charges or find innocence. It comes down to not enough staffing in law enforcement, crime labs, and courts. They need more people and well trained staff to make legal proceedings move along faster, which would take increased funding from the state.
“What you’re referencing here is not a DA problem,” Director Loren Lampert said. “You’re asking us to be the solution to a problem that exists from the top to the bottom of the criminal justice system.”
Some members of the committee raised concern of the shortened timeline leading to more charges being filed against innocent people to keep them in jail while evidence is processed. Representative Tony Bacala, of Prairieville, said a district attorney told him the five day timeline would push them to file charges against everyone to keep holding him. Rep. James regarded this comment as the most troubling thing he had heard that day.
Those in support of the bill said it would put pressure on the legislature to tackle the issues of funding and other criminal justice reform.
“The people who get arrested whether they’re innocent or not, we shouldn’t put it on their backs to bear the burdens of what we should have to do,” said Representative Richard Nelson, of Mandeville.
It was a very close vote with 5-4 to move the bill to the House floor where there is expected to be more debate to extend the proposed timeline. The DA’s office is pushing to extend the number of days to be higher than five and are willing to work with Rep. James on potentially changing the number. He has been working on the bill for two years and has had close conversations with the DA’s office on the language.