Louisiana still retains much of its traditional French heritage. Counties in Louisiana are called Parishes, and Louisiana is the only state in the country to consider itself a “civil law” state, as opposed to the traditional American and English common law standard. This means that prior state judicial opinions in Louisiana hold little legal authority. Instead, each case is decided individually and prior rulings are not usually referenced. Although this puts Louisiana in the minority within the United States, the vast majority of the world also uses the civil law system.
The Louisiana Supreme Court was first created by the French in the early 1700’s, and its composition did not substantially change until after the civil war. Today, the structure of Louisiana’s court system resembles those of other states. The Supreme Court, appellate courts, and various Parish courts throughout the state are organized into separate judicial districts, with each successive level having the power to overturn the lower court. The Louisiana Supreme Court is one of a handful of courts in the country whose rules allow judges to decide cases without explanation, a practice not generally followed in the state today.
Louisiana state laws offer a unique form of marriage called covenant marriage. Couples in a covenant marriage waive their right to a no-fault divorce. These couples cannot divorce after 6 months without cause, such as adultery, unlike other couples who marry under the state’s traditional marriage laws.
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Louisiana recently took center stage at the Supreme Court in the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana. The case struck down a Louisiana law allowing the death penalty in cases of non-fatal child rape. Louisiana still retains capital punishment for treason, one of only 5 states to do so.
Louisiana only recently overhauled its public defender system, whose deficiencies were exposed during Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana public defenders were previously assigned to court rooms and answered to judges, not clients. In one case a client may have had several different public defenders. Because attorneys were not assigned to individual clients, after Katrina some prisoners remained in jail for months before they were arraigned. Louisiana’s dramatic restructuring now closely resembles systems found in other states and is considered a model for the country.
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