Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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In 2018, the target of a grand jury investigation was charged by Bill of Information with one count of molestation of a juvenile, a violation of La. R.S. 14:81.2, arising from an incident in 2003 in which he allegedly molested his children’s babysitter. The target was subsequently arrested and pled not guilty. In conjunction with the grand jury proceeding, the state issued a subpoena to the target’s wife, to appear before the grand jury. The wife filed an “Affidavit of Spouse” wherein she asserted “her lawful privilege to refuse to give evidence in any criminal proceeding against her husband, pursuant to Louisiana Code of Evidence article 505.” The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review of this matter to determine whether the spousal witness privilege in Article 505 could be invoked in a grand jury proceeding investigating the molestation of a juvenile. Because the grand jury proceeding involved an allegation and investigation of the sexual abuse of a child, the Court found the spousal privilege was abrogated by Ls. R.S. 14:403(B). The Court reversed the district court, which found the spousal privilege applied. View "In re: Grand Jury Subpoena" on Justia Law

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Officers placed defendant Tre King in handcuffs during a traffic stop after they smelled marijuana in the vehicle and determined that he had outstanding warrants for his arrest. They advised him of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. Defendant indicated that he understood his rights. A search of the vehicle revealed marijuana in the passenger side door and a gun beneath a jacket. Defendant claimed that the marijuana, jacket, and gun all belonged to him. Defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of certain felonies, and illegal carrying of a weapon while in possession of a controlled dangerous substance. After initially denying defendant’s motion to suppress his statements, the district court ultimately granted defendant’s motion to exclude his statements from trial. The State sought supervisory review from the court of appeal, which denied writs because it found, consistent with prior rulings in that circuit, that the Miranda warning was deficient because it fit not advise defendant of the temporal aspects of his right to an attorney (i.e., that he had a right to an attorney both before and during any questioning). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether the warning that “you have the right to an attorney, and if you can’t afford one, one will be appointed to you,” without further qualification, was a sufficient advisement of the right to counsel under Miranda. The Court determined that a general advisement like that given in this case was sufficient, and that a statement need not be suppressed because of the failure to qualify the warning with an additional advisement that the right to counsel exists both before and during questioning. Accordingly, the Court reversed the rulings of the lower courts, denied defendant's motion to exclude his statements, and remanded for eh district court for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. King" on Justia Law

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On March 25, 2013, the 18-year-old defendant Clifford Williams shot and killed 15-year-old Ralphmon Green in the 2100 block of Allen Street in New Orleans. The victim was struck by bullets four times and defendant continued to fire at him after he fell to the ground. Eight shell casings found at the crime scene matched a semiautomatic handgun that was later found at defendant’s residence. Several eyewitnesses to the shooting testified that the victim was unarmed. Before trial, the defense was prohibited from introducing evidence of the victim’s juvenile arrest for illegal carrying of a weapon. At trial, the defense unsuccessfully attempted to introduce other evidence of the victim’s character. Specifically, the defense sought to introduce a photograph that depicted the victim holding a gun, evidence that the victim had threatened defendant on social media, and testimony of a witness that the victim had previously threatened defendant. In rejecting defendant’s claim on appeal that the district court erred in excluding this evidence, the court of appeal found that defendant failed to introduce appreciable evidence of a hostile demonstration or overt act on the part of the victim at the time of the offense charged, as required by La.C.E. art. 404(A)(2)(a). Defendant contended the court of appeal erred because testimony of an eyewitness constituted appreciable evidence of an overt act by the victim, and the district court overstepped its bounds in evaluating the credibility of that witness to find the evidence was not appreciable because the witness was not credible. To this point, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed. However, the Court found the evidence was otherwise inadmissible, and therefore affirmed the conviction and sentence. View "Louisiana v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Louisiana charged D.T. with aggravated battery committed with a firearm, and sought to divest the juvenile court of jurisdiction and to prosecute D.T. as an adult pursuant to Louisiana Children’s Code Article 305(B)(2)(j). In response, D.T. filed a motion with the juvenile court to declare La. Ch.C. art. 305(B)(2)(j) unconstitutional. The juvenile court granted D.T.’s motion. On the state's application to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Supreme Court concurred with the trial court that La. Ch.C. art. 305(B)(2)(j) was indeed unconstitutional, concluding the legislature exceeded its constitutional authority in creating an exception allowing divesture of juvenile court jurisdiction for a child charged with aggravated battery committed with a firearm, where that charge is not among the crimes enumerated in La. Const. art. V, sec. 19. View "Louisiana in the interest of D.T." on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review of whether the State’s circumstantial case against defendant Charles Mayeux was sufficient to support his conviction for second degree murder. In the early morning hours of March 21, 2015, defendant called 911 to report a fire at his home in Evergreen. When the fire was extinguished, the charred body of defendant’s wife, Shelly Mayeux, was discovered. It was undisputed that Shelly died before the fire, as neither carbon monoxide nor soot were found in her lungs or airway. But no expert could determine the cause of her death. A fire investigator opined that the fire was intentionally set. Defendant and his wife were the only two people in the home when the fire started. The State indicted defendant for second degree murder, alleging that he killed his wife and set his house on fire to conceal evidence of the crime. A jury found defendant guilty as charged by a 10-2 verdict. The Supreme Court determined the State presented sufficient evidence for the jury to rationally conclude that defendant killed his wife when he had the specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm, therefore, affirming conviction. View "Louisiana v. Mayeux" on Justia Law

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In 2007, a grand jury indicated defendant Dacarius Holliday for the first-degree murder of two-year-old Darian Coon. In 2010, a unanimous jury found defendant guilty as charged. In March 2010, the jury unanimously determined that defendant be sentenced to death, finding the following aggravating circumstances proven beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) the offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of second-degree cruelty to juveniles; and (2) the victim was under the age of twelve (12) years. Appeal was made directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which reviewed defendant's 52 assignments of error, variously combined into 29 arguments. Finding no reversible error, the Court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. View "Louisiana v. Holliday" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the court of appeal erred in reversing the district court judgment that granted defendant Donovan Alexander's motion to suppress an uncounseled statement. Defendant was charged by bill of information with possession with intent to distribute heroin, and possessing a firearm while in possession of a controlled dangerous substance. He pled not guilty and filed a motion to suppress statement. A DEA Special Agent testified that defendant was read his rights and waived them at the scene of his arrest and also prior to being interviewed at Police Headquarters. Specifically, defendant signed a DEA advice of rights form. While defendant was detained at Police Headquarters, police informed him of the search and recovery from an Orleans Parish residence. Defendant told officers that the drugs and gun were his and that he did not want the woman who lived there to be charged. This was the statement sought to be suppressed. At some point during the search of the residence, attorney Dwayne Burrell arrived on the scene, identifying himself to officers as defendant’s attorney and attempted to stop further search of the home. Burrell was told by officers that drugs had been found and that the defendant was being detained. Burrell told the officers that he wanted to speak with defendant and that defendant was not going to make any statements. The trial court ultimately granted the motion to suppress, reasoning that where there are allegations of police misconduct in connection to statements given by an accused, the State had to specifically rebut these allegations, and the State failed to specifically rebut the serious allegations made by the defense attorney. After reviewing federal and state authorities, the Supreme Court determined that when the police failed to inform defendant his attorney sought to speak with him and failed to allow his attorney access to defendant when the attorney was on the scene of the arrest and asked to see his client, the statement was inadmissible. Accordingly, the court of appeal was reversed and the district court’s judgment reinstated. View "Louisiana v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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Defendant Hunter Fussell was indicted for a first degree rape of a victim under the age of thirteen that he was alleged to have committed on or shortly after his fifteenth birthday. Defendant filed motions contending that the automatic transfer provision of Article 305(A) violated several constitutional provisions, both state and federal, as well as evolving United States Supreme Court jurisprudence recognizing the special characteristics of juveniles that could affect their capabilities and culpability. In response, the district court ultimately ruled that this automatic transfer provision violates due process and that a transfer hearing, comparable to the one provided in Children’s Code art. 862,1 was constitutionally required before a juvenile could be transferred to a district court exercising criminal jurisdiction. The party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears a heavy burden in proving that statute unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined defendant failed to carry the burden of showing Article 305(A) was unconstitutional. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the district court's ruling, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana vs. Fussell" on Justia Law

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In 2014, defendant David Bourg fatally shot Michael Pitre in the head while they were sitting in defendant's truck parked outside Pitre's mother's home in Oberlin, Louisiana. Defendant and the victim had been drinking, and defendant claimed at trial that his weapon discharged accidentally while he was defending himself against the victim. A jury found defendant guilty of manslaughter in response to the charge of second degree murder. The district court granted defendant’s motion for new trial pursuant to La.C.Cr.P. art. 851(B)(1). In doing so, the district court emphasized its evaluation of defendant’s testimony in conjunction with the forensic evidence. On direct review, the court of appeal found that the State had failed to file a motion for imposition of a sentence under the enhancement provision of La.C.Cr.P. art. 893.3, as required by La.C.Cr.P. art. 893.1. Therefore, the court of appeal vacated the sentence. The court of appeal also declined to revisit its earlier determination that the district court erred in granting the motion for new trial. Applying the law-of-the-case doctrine, the court of appeal found no clear error in its prior ruling and affirmed the conviction. The Louisiana Supreme Court did not find as the appellate court did, that the district court failed to weigh the evidence as a "thirteenth juror." "There is no confusion between factual and legal sufficiency that can fairly be discerned from this record." Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted defendant’s application to reverse the court of appeal’s affirmance of the conviction, reinstated the district court’s ruling that granted defendant a new trial pursuant to La.C.Cr.P. art. 851(B)(1), and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Louisiana vs. Bourg" on Justia Law

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By separate bills of information, defendant Valentino Hodge was charged with one count of domestic abuse battery by strangulation in the presence of a minor, and with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Defendant pleaded not guilty, and the charges were slated for a jury trial. Owing in large measure to the defendant’s vacillation between being represented by appointed counsel and seeking retained counsel, the trial date was continued several times. In January 2019, the state filed a motion in limine seeking to have the district court declare that the defendant would be tried by a jury composed of twelve jurors, ten of whom must concur to render a verdict. The next day, without a hearing, the district court signed an order denying the state’s motion in limine and declaring that defendant was entitled to a unanimous jury verdict pursuant to the district court’s own earlier ruling in Louisiana v. Maxie, 11th Judicial District Court, No. 13-CR-72522, October 11, 2018. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the district court committed two interrelated errors: (1) creating, on its own initiative, a constitutional challenge to statutory law and to provisions of the Louisiana Constitution; and (2) striking down the jury verdict regime as unconstitutional on the basis of an earlier, nonbinding district court holding. Based on these errors, the Supreme Court vacated the district court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Hodge" on Justia Law