Louisiana's legal system is the only one in the US to be based on civil or Roman law, specifically the Code Napoléon of France. Under Louisiana state law, cases may be decided by judicial interpretation of the statutes, without reference to prior court cases, whereas in other states and in the federal courts the common law prevails, and decisions are generally based on previous judicial interpretations and findings. In actual practice, Louisiana laws no longer differ radically from US common law, and most Louisiana lawyers and judges now cite previous cases in their arguments and rulings.
The highest court in Louisiana is the supreme court, with appellate jurisdiction. It consists of a chief justice who is chosen by seniority of service, and 7 associate justices, all of them elected from 6 supreme court districts (the first district has 2 judges) for staggered 10-year terms. There are 5 appellate circuits in the state, each divided into 3 districts; the 5 circuits are served by 54 judges, all of them elected for overlapping 10-year terms. Each of the state's district courts serves at least 1 parish and has at least 1 district judge, elected for a 6-year term; there are 222 district judges. District courts have original jurisdiction in criminal and civil cases. City courts are the principal courts of limited jurisdiction.
Louisiana may have been the first state to institute a system of leasing convict labor; large numbers of convicts were leased, especially after the Civil War, until the practice was discontinued in the early 1900s. The abuses entailed in this system may be suggested by the fact that, of 700 convicts leased in 1882, 149 died in service. As of June 2001, 35,494 prisoners were in Louisiana's state and federal prisons, an increase of 2.2% over the previous year. The state's incarceration rate stood at 795 per 100,000 inhabitants.
According to the FBI in 2001, Louisiana had a crime index total of 5,338.1 per 100,000, including a total of 30,678 violent crimes and 207,693 crimes against property in that year. Louisiana has a death penalty law; 27 people were executed between 1977 and 2003, and 96 were under sentence of death in 2003. Judges may impose sentences of hard labor.