How is Louisiana Law Different from Common Law?

If you’ve spent any time in Louisiana, then you know that it’s a unique state. The people talk funny and eat just about anything, but did you know they also have a unique legal system. Yes, Louisiana law is different from common law.

The difference between Common Law and Louisiana Law, quite simply, is how judges make decisions about cases. In Common Law, judges are bound by precedent; in Louisiana law, they rely on the Civil Code, most of the time.

When it comes to Louisiana Law and Common Law, they are complete opposites, yet sometimes very similar in certain aspects. Yes, I understand how this can be confusing.

Picture of Louisiana State Capitol

How can two types of laws be different but similar? We’ll delve more into this question further below, as well as a little tidbit of the weirdest law in Louisiana and why Louisiana is the only state out of 50 to have parishes instead of Counties.

What is the difference between Napoleonic Code and Common Law?

In Louisiana, the Napoleonic Code, or Civil Code, came from two Civil Law Countries, Spain and France.

Because Spain and France were both owners of Louisiana at one time in history, the Napoleonic Code was created by taking some legal structures from both countries, making the melting pot of Louisiana Law today.

In Louisiana, civil law is known as codified, which means that Louisiana is made up of a compilation or collection of laws and statutes. These laws are what is to be followed when a matter is brought forth in Court.

The Court takes these laws, “dissects” them if you may, determines their meaning, and then makes a ruling accordingly. Another way to put it might be that Louisiana Civil Law allows for more judicial interpretation to hold sway rather than a more objective or historical perspective of the law.

Common-Law is a system of law developed in England and adopted by the United States. This system is not codified but instead relies on legislative decisions primarily based on precedent, which means the judicial decisions already made in similar cases are used.

The precedents to be applied in the decision of each new case are determined by the presiding judge, which shows that each judge has an enormous role in shaping American and British Law.

The most notable differences between the types of laws are found in terminology and procedure. It means that certain legal concepts and laws called one thing in the rest of the Country get called something else in Louisiana.

For example, a statute of limitations is a law setting a period of restrictions for bringing certain kinds of legal actions, as in personal injury cases. In Louisiana, it is called prescription, but it means the same thing.

The most notable difference in procedure is seen in trust and estates law, real estate law, and inheritance. In Louisiana, these legal categories are called “Succession and Donations,” in the rest of the country, they fall under “Trust and Estates.”

Much of the legality surrounding the way land and property are passed down is unique to Louisiana. This is why it is always in your best interest to hire a Louisiana lawyer when it comes to Louisiana Law.

Picture of a court house

Does Louisiana Use Common Law?

Louisiana’s legal system is better known as a hybrid system. This means that it is influenced by both Civil and Common Law. Louisiana’s substantive law between private parties, like contracts, torts, and family law, is highly based on the Civil Law derived from Spain and France.

However, Louisiana’s criminal law is directly based on the United State’s Common Law. This all came from 1804 when Judge James Workman opposed the corruption of the Civil Law derived Spanish Justice System and decided to draft An Act for the Punishment of Crimes and Misdemeanors, or more commonly known as the Punishment Act.

Workman advocated that Louisiana use the system passed by the U.S. Congress, which enumerated crimes rather than defining them. It also specified that the general principle was to regulate crime according to the Common Law of England.

Workman succeeded and formed the Criminal Code we know today by using Common Law instead of the Civil Law that was being used in Louisiana.

In an earlier post, I covered calculating criminal sentences, which evolved from Workman’s practices.

What is the Weirdest Law in Louisiana?

Here in Louisiana, we have always had a unique way of going about things. Sometimes, those unique ways were not always the best ways, according to past lawmakers. Here are a few laws that may not be enforced today but are nevertheless still on the books.

Law Number 1:

Everyone knows that good fried alligator has always been up on the list of great Cajun foods from Louisiana. However, if you get the envie (that deep down in your gut craving) for some fried alligator, don’t try to steal Tee Boy’s gator from down the road.  

According to Revised Statutes 14:67.13, that is considered theft of an alligator, and you shall be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for up to five years, or you may be fined up to two thousand dollars or both.

So, next time you really want that fried alligator, just go to your local mom and pop’s down-home cooking and get you a plate.

Law Number 2:

THROW ME SOMETHING, MISTER!! Just not from a third-story window. If you are in New Orleans, try not to throw something from a third-story window.

According to Sec. 54-413 of the New Orleans Code of Ordinances, it shall be unlawful for any person to throw, cast, or propel any substance from any aperture, window, door, staircase, balcony, or a roof that is eight or more feet above street level onto any public place, way, street, sidewalk, neutral ground or highway within the city.

So, the next time you go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, remember to determine how many feet you are above the ground before you send those beads flying.

Law Number 3:

If you decide to watch Pro Wrestling one night and then decide on a whim that you really want to wrestle a bear, you can be fined and even imprisoned for it.

According to revised statute 14:102.10, a person guilty of bear wrestling shall be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned for no more than six months, or in some cases, both.

A bear wrestling match is a contest between one or more people and a bear, with the intention to fight or physically engage.  A person can be charged with bear wrestling if they are found to be promoting or engaging in a bear wrestling match, or if they are receiving money for others to watch the match. Buying or training a bear for a bear wrestling match can also lead to being charged.

Now that you know that it is illegal to wrestle with a bear, maybe it’s better to just stick to watching Pro Wrestling or WWE.

Why is Louisiana the Only State with Parishes?

Louisiana was officially Roman Catholic under France and Spain’s rule, unlike the rest of the states, which were under English control in their beginning stages as colonies.

The boundaries in France and Spain that divided the territories generally coincided with church parishes. A parish was defined as being a small administrative district typically having its own church and priest.

In 1807, the territorial legislature officially adopted the ecclesiastical term. Throughout the state’s history, Louisiana never deviated, and the primary civil divisions have been officially known as parishes ever since. Now the state consists of 64 parishes.

If you need a Louisiana lawyer, contact our office to speak with an experienced attorney. We have offices in Hammond and Livingston, Louisiana. Call our offices at (225) 686-8006 or visit our website and email us.