Rather than waiting an average of 55 days as they have in the past, people who are arrested in East Baton Rouge Parish, but can't afford their bail, will now spend just two to three days behind bars before they are formally charged with a crime.
The fast-tracked judicial process goes into full effect at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Inmates who show up in the courtroom of State District Judge Bruce Bennett for their arraignments will have been booked between noon Sunday and noon Monday.
The change will be most consequential in cases where prosecutors decide to dismiss charges. Those defendants will be able to leave prison immediately, rather than waiting months.
People who are arrested in East Baton Rouge Parish, but can't afford their bail, typically spend more than a month sitting behind bars before …
Standing in the Metro Council chambers, flanked by representatives of the local criminal justice establishment, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III on Tuesday announced the long-in-the-making shift to a 72-hour arraignment system.
“I want to emphasize that this is a massive change to our entire system that could not have been accomplished without the participation and the support of everybody that you see here today,” Moore said.
“Each agency has willingly agreed to do double work for the next eight weeks as we transition from the old system to the new system,” he added.
The ACLU of Louisiana praised the change Tuesday, saying that pretrial detention “has devastating consequences for families and communities" and expressing hope that the process could be shortened even more.
“We encourage other local officials to follow EBR’s lead,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, the organization’s executive director.
Moore said the change comes with upfront costs, notably for new technology, but the agencies involved hope to reap the benefits later and use an estimated $1 million in reduced prison costs to further expedite the judicial process.
Not everyone will get an immediate charging decision. Moore said he will take more time in some cases, particularly ones in which prosecutors are waiting on DNA, fingerprints and phone evidence. Nevertheless, he promised that those defendants will within three days have a court appearance where a new court date will be set at a “date certain,” he said.
“So not only will the defendants know, the victims will know, the parents will know, the community will know and nobody will be left behind,” Moore said.
The effort to speed up charging decisions in criminal cases began in April 2018. Since then it has grown to include the public defender's office, judges, all the law enforcement agencies that make arrests in the parish, the clerk of court and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail.
“The (new) system is very simple, but it was very difficult to get to this position,” Moore said.
One of the biggest changes is law enforcement officers must write up reports within 24 hours of an arrest. Moore said that at first only 30 percent of officers were managing to do that, but last week that rate was up to 80 percent.
“That is phenomenal with the amount of work they have to do,” said the district attorney.
It's not unusual for someone to be arrested in East Baton Rouge Parish but never charged with a crime, and local officials are implementing a …
The final hurdle was surmounted Oct. 3 when criminal judges on the 19th Judicial District agreed to the faster arraignment process. The judges repeatedly tabled the discussion for several months prior to that vote.
State law gives prosecutors much longer than three days to arraign criminal defendants: 45 days for misdemeanor arrests, 60 days for felonies and 120 days for the most serious offenses such as murder and aggravated rape.
Moore's office reviewed practices in other districts nationwide and determined that filing formal charges within 48 hours is the "gold standard" for prosecution. But that wasn’t yet feasible for East Baton Rouge, so they settled on 72 hours, at least to start.
State District Judge Don Johnson said there’s more to come, including arraignments via video for local defendants imprisoned elsewhere in the state.
State District Judge Trudy White said the new process balances the need for a humane process with the need to keep people safe.
“It’s a good mix, we’re all bought into it, and we’d appreciate the community giving us a chance to work out any bugs,” White said.