Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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In 2016, a jury found defendant Henri Lyles guilty of an aggravated battery, committed in 2015. The State filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging two predicate offenses: a 1991 distribution of cocaine conviction, and a 2004 manslaughter conviction. In early 2017, the district court adjudicated defendant a third-felony offender and sentenced him to the life sentence mandated by La.R.S. 15:529.1(A)(3)(b) (effective August 15, 2010). The court of appeal vacated the habitual offender sentence and remanded for resentencing because of the trial court’s failure to vacate the underlying aggravated battery sentence. After remand, the district court resentenced defendant on to the same term of imprisonment under the same provision of law. Defendant appealed, contending the Habitual Offender law, as amended by 2017 La. Acts 282, should have been applied to him. Among other changes, the act reduced from ten to five years the time allowed (known as the cleansing period) between expiration of correctional supervision for one offense and commission of the next offense on the habitual offender ladder. Defendant’s probation for distribution of cocaine expired in 1996 and he did not commit manslaughter until 2003. Therefore, defendant contended he was a second-felony offender subject to a sentencing range of 3 1/3 to 20 years imprisonment under the amended law. Finding Act 282 applied, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal, vacated the habitual offender adjudication and sentence, and remanded with instructions to the district court for further proceedings. View "Louisiana vs. Lyles" on Justia Law

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After defendant Desmond Parker was found guilty of simple robbery and intimidating a witness, the State filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging that defendant was a fourth-felony offender. The district court adjudicated defendant as a third-felony offender after finding that the State failed to prove an out-of-state guilty plea was entered in compliance with Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine if the lower courts correctly found that the State failed to carry its burden of proving a prior out-of-state guilty plea was knowing, voluntary, and made with an express waiver of defendant’s rights in accordance with Boykin. Finding the State indeed failed to carry its burden, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal, which found the district court correctly rejected this predicate guilty plea and adjudicated defendant as a third, rather than as a fourth, felony offender. View "Louisiana vs. Parker" on Justia Law

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In 2011, four men, including Merlin Smothers and Jeremiah Harris, were engaged in illegal activities in Harris’s vehicle when a blue Monte Carlo pulled up behind them. A person stood up through the Monte Carlo’s sunroof and began shooting at them with an assault rifle. Harris was shot but survived. Smothers escaped injury. Police chased the Monte Carlo and ultimately apprehended the driver of the vehicle, Eugene Brashears, who was the only person in the vehicle by the time police were able to catch it. Smothers and Harris described the shooter as a black male wearing a red hat but they were otherwise unable to identify him. Two red hats were found in the vehicle but no firearm remained. DNA recovered from one red hat matched Brashears and he tested positive for gunshot residue. No one was charged with this shooting at the time and Brashears was deceased by the time of defendant Kenneth Jones' trial. Years later when Smothers and Harris were arrested on federal charges related to heroin distribution they identified defendant as the shooter in the 2011 incident. Defendant was indicted by grand jury and ultimately found guilty of two counts of attempted second degree murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. From the trial court’s lone statement that it was not satisfied with defendant’s proffered race-neutral reasons for challenging jurors of the venire, the Louisiana Supreme Court found it "inappropriate to infer that the district court did not blur the line between Batson’s second and third steps . . . and that the court did not impermissibly shift the burden onto the defense to rebut the State’s prima facie case." Accordingly, it reversed the court of appeal, vacated the convictions and sentences, and remanded the case to the district court for a new trial. The Court urged the district court to proceed "with extreme caution on retrial if the State again tries to rely so heavily on undocumented statements that have been disavowed by the purported informants." View "Louisiana vs. Jones" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a grand jury indicted defendant Fred Reimonenq on charges of first degree rape, attempted first degree rape, and sexual battery of a victim under the age of 13. Trial was scheduled to begin on September 25, 2018. On the Sunday before this trial date, the state presented defense counsel with a curriculum vitae, but apparently nothing more, of Anne Troy, Ph.D., a sexual assault nurse examiner, who it intended to call as an expert witness at trial. On the morning of trial, the state provided defense counsel with formal notice of its intent to use Dr. Troy’s testimony. Defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude any expert testimony that had not been properly noticed under La.C.Cr.P. art. 719, including Dr. Troy’s testimony. The trial court granted the defense’s motion in limine and excluded Dr. Troy’s testimony. The court disallowed any attempt at supplementation based upon its finding there was “a timing issue” that still made the late notice “prejudicial to the [d]efense and [did] not afford the [d]efense the opportunity to conduct whatever defensive positions it might otherwise be able to take had it had more time . . . .” The state noted its intent to apply for supervisory writs, but did not do so, and, instead, opted to enter a nolle prosequi. Two days later, on September 27, 2018, the state filed a new indictment on the same charges. On October 18, defendant appeared for arraignment and orally moved to adopt all previous filings and motions from the original case. Trial was then set for December 3, 2018. On November 27, 2018, the state filed its supplemental notice pursuant to La.C.Cr.P. art. 719 with respect to Dr. Troy’s testimony. On the morning of trial, defense counsel filed a supplemental motion in limine regarding Dr. Troy’s testimony and a related motion to quash. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on the authority of the district attorney to dismiss and reinstitute criminal prosecutions. Because the actions of the state in this matter "so undermine the authority of the trial court that it offends bedrock principles of fundamental fairness and due process," the Court reversed. View "Louisiana vs. Reimonenq" on Justia Law

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In February 2017, five-year-old N.H. reported to her grandfather that E.S. “has me put his missy in my mouth.” N.H.’s grandfather asked her to repeat herself, with which she complied, but otherwise he did not inquire further. According to N.H.’s grandfather, “missy” was the term N.H. used at the time to describe a person's genitalia. He repeated N.H.’s disclosure to N.H.’s mother who then reported the allegations to law enforcement. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the writ in this matter primarily to address the constitutionality of mandatory lifetime sex offender registration under R.S. 15:5421 as applied to a juvenile. E.S. was ultimately adjudicated delinquent for the first degree rape of a child under the age of thirteen years old. Finding that there was insufficient evidence to determine E.S. was fourteen years old at the time of the offense, and therefore mandatory disposition pursuant to Ch. C. art. 897.13 and R.S. 15:542 was inapplicable to the case at hand, the Supreme Court affirmed the adjudication of first degree rape, reversed the court of appeal’s determination that there was sufficient evidence to establish E.S.’s age, vacated the disposition of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana in the Interest of E.S." on Justia Law

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A.N. was adjudicated delinquent for aggravated incest involving his sister, J.N. The petition charging A.N. alleged that J.N. was between ages seven and eleven, and that A.N. was between twelve and sixteen when the offending acts occurred. The investigation began in 2011 when J.N. submitted a poem she wrote for school expressing her anger at her older brother for molesting her. J.N.’s teacher passed the poem to a social worker who later confirmed with J.N. that she had been sexually abused by her brother. A.N. admitted that he and J.N. engaged in sexual acts but stated it was consensual. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted a writ in this matter primarily to address the constitutionality of mandatory lifetime sex offender registration as applied to a juvenile. Finding that A.N. did not have a right to file for post-conviction relief because he was not in custody at the time of his application, the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of A.N.’s post-conviction relief application by the juvenile court. Since A.N. was denied relief on the basis of custody, all remaining issues presented by his writ application, including whether R.S. 15:542 is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, were moot. View "Louisiana in the Interest of A.N." on Justia Law

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Defendant Kelly Folse, a veterinarian, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, and illegal use of a weapon, arising from the allegation she shot her neighbor’s dog in River Ridge. Defendant was arrested and her home was searched pursuant to arrest and search warrants. Her iPhone was seized at the time of her arrest. Access to the phone was locked by a passcode. Police obtained a search warrant to extract and examine the contents of the phone. At some point, she was informed that police had a search warrant for the phone but they would return it to her after she provided the passcode and they extracted a copy of its contents. However, the 10-day period provided in La.C.Cr.P. art. 163(C) had passed at that time. Under circumstances that were not well developed at the evidentiary hearing, defendant ultimately provided her passcode, her data was extracted, and her phone returned to her. Defendant moved to suppress the contents of the phone because the warrant had expired at the time the phone was searched. The district court found that the warrant could not be executed because the 10-day period provided in La.C.Cr.P. art. 163(C) had passed. However, because defendant, with the assistance of counsel, consented to the search by providing her passcode in exchange for the return of her phone, the district court denied defendant’s motion to suppress. The court of appeal held that defendant’s consent to search her phone was not free and voluntary because it was given only after an officer asserted that she had a warrant to search the phone. The Louisiana Supreme Court could not say after review of the trial court record, whether defendant merely acquiesced to a claim of lawful authority, or validly consented to provide her passcode in exchange for the phone. As such, the Court reversed the appellate court's order and remanded to the district court for further findings on whether evidence ought to be suppressed. View "Louisiana v. Folse" on Justia Law

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Defendant Darrell Thomas was unequivocally identified by both Traavis and Stephan Harris as the person who exited a black SUV and started firing at them. The shooting took place near the Take-a-Bag store on Milam Street in Shreveport, Louisiana in 2010. Traavis’s right leg was amputated because of the shooting. Defendant was ultimately convicted by jury of attempted first degree murder, and the district court sentenced him as a second-felony offender to serve 55 years imprisonment at hard labor without parole eligibility. Just over one month after trial, defendant through new counsel filed a motion for new trial claiming that Cordarly Chapple arrived with defendant and the Taylors in the SUV, and that Chapple was the real shooter. According to defendant, Rhonisha and Rhonda would have identified Chapple if trial counsel had asked them. Defendant also provided the district court with an affidavit by Chapple in which he claimed he was the shooter and that defendant was innocent. After the district court denied the motion for new trial, the court of appeal affirmed the conviction and sentence. An application for post-conviction relief (PCR) was successful, however, with the PCR court determining defendant was entitled to a new trial on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the PCR court erred in failing to correctly apply a deferential "Strickland" standard. Defendant's new trial order was vacated, and his conviction and sentence reinstated. View "Louisiana v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Brian Hughes was arrested in the parking lot of Grant Junior High School, near Dry Prong, Louisiana. A search incident to arrest revealed a plastic bag in defendant’s pocket, which contained a substance that appeared to be crystal methamphetamine. The Grant Parish Sheriff’s office determined that the substance weighed 2.3 grams. The substance was sent to the North Louisiana Crime Lab for chemical testing. The Crime Lab determined it was methamphetamine. At the Crime Lab, however, the methamphetamine weighed 1.73 grams. Defendant was found guilty as charged of possession of methamphetamine, La.R.S. 40:967 (which at the time of the crime did not differentiate the offense into grades by weights less than 28 grams), and sentenced to five years imprisonment at hard labor. The court of appeal reversed the conviction because it found the evidence insufficient to support it. Specifically, the court of appeal found “that the weight discrepancy of the substance measured by the Grant Parish Sheriff’s Department (2.3 grams) and the weight recorded by the analyst at the Crime Lab (1.73 grams) provided reasonable doubt as to whether the lab received and analyzed the same evidence taken from Defendant’s pocket.” The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the state established the chain of custody at trial, and the jury could reasonably conclude that the substance seized from the defendant was the substance tested by the crime lab and introduced as evidence at trial, the discrepancy in the weights notwithstanding. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal’s decision, and reinstated the conviction and sentence, which were affirmed. View "Louisiana v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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After his second trial, appellant Jeffrey Clark was found guilty of the 1999 first degree murder of Captain David Knapps during a failed attempt to escape from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where appellant was serving a life sentence for first degree murder. Appellant’s first trial ended in a mistrial after opening statements in the guilt phase because the prosecution informed the jury that appellant was already serving a life sentence. Following his second trial, appellant was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Appellant’s conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and remanded for further consideration in light of McCoy v. Louisiana, 584 U.S. —, 138 S.Ct. 1500, — L.Ed.2d — (2018). With the benefit of additional briefing and oral argument, and after further consideration, the Louisiana Supreme Court again affirmed appellant’s conviction and sentence. View "Louisiana v. Clark" on Justia Law