Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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The defendant, Kathleen Mouton, was arrested on a charge of attempted second degree murder in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, on August 1, 2018. Before formal charges were filed, her defense counsel filed a motion for a preliminary examination. The State filed a bill of information charging Mouton with attempted manslaughter on June 13, 2019. The trial was scheduled six times but was continued each time. On August 17, 2022, Mouton filed a motion to quash based on untimely prosecution. The trial court granted the motion, reasoning that the motion for preliminary examination did not suspend the time limit to commence trial because it was filed before prosecution was formally initiated.The State appealed, and the court of appeal reversed the trial court's decision. The appellate court did not address whether the motion for preliminary examination suspended the limitation period. Instead, it found that the two-year limitation period was interrupted by the court closure in Jefferson Davis Parish due to the impact of Hurricane Laura. The court explained that the limitation period began running anew on August 27, 2020, and thus the State had two years from that date in which to commence trial. As such, the motion to quash filed on August 17, 2022, was premature and should have been denied.The Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed with both the trial court and the court of appeal. It held that a motion for preliminary examination filed prior to the institution of prosecution does not suspend the time limitation to commence trial once charges are formally filed unless the defendant re-urges the motion after the State files the bill of information. The court also held that the limitation period was suspended, but not interrupted, when courts were closed due to Hurricane Laura. Based on these conclusions, the court found that the State failed to timely commence trial and reinstated the trial court’s grant of Mouton's motion to quash. View "State v. Mouton" on Justia Law

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The case in question concerns the defendant, Sharrieff M. Kent, who was convicted by a Plaquemines Parish jury of two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, one count of aggravated criminal damage to property, and one count of illegal discharge of a firearm. The charges stemmed from an incident where Kent fired several shots at a pickup truck containing law enforcement officers as they were fleeing his property during an investigation. Kent claimed he was protecting his family from unknown intruders on his property.The Court of Appeal had reversed Kent's convictions, determining that the State violated Kent's right to due process by introducing evidence of other crimes and his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The Court of Appeal also found that the State violated Kent’s right to remain silent by referencing his post-arrest, post-Miranda silence.However, the Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed with the Court of Appeal's determinations. It concluded that the references made to the officers conducting the trash pull as part of a narcotics investigation do not constitute impermissible references to other crimes or misconduct. Additionally, the Supreme Court found that the State did not violate the Fifth Amendment as the circumstances presented align more with the exceptions and non-application of Doyle than with Doyle itself.While the Supreme Court agreed that the State introduced the facts underlying Kent's prior conviction without first satisfying necessary prerequisites to their admission, it did not believe this error warranted a reversal of Kent's conviction. Considering the overwhelming testimonial and physical evidence showing Kent fired his weapon at a fleeing vehicle in the street, the Supreme Court concluded that the verdict was surely unattributable to the error. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal and reinstated Kent's convictions and sentences. View "STATE OF LOUISIANA VS. KENT" on Justia Law

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Darrell J. Robinson was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Robinson appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, arguing that the state suppressed material evidence that violated his due process rights. The evidence in question included undisclosed deals with jailhouse informant Leroy Goodspeed, serology reports and notes, other forensic evidence, and eyewitness accounts inconsistent with trial testimony.The court found that the state did suppress evidence and this evidence was favorable to the defense. The court further found that the undisclosed evidence was material and its suppression undermined confidence in the verdict. Consequently, the court decided that Robinson did not receive a fair trial, resulting in a verdict unworthy of confidence. The court reversed Robinson's conviction, vacated his sentence, and remanded the case for a new trial. View "STATE EX REL. ROBINSON VS. VANNOY" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reviewed a conviction for domestic abuse battery involving strangulation. The defendant, Jose Sagastume, was found guilty by a unanimous jury and sentenced to three years imprisonment with two years suspended, followed by two years of probation. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his challenges for cause against two potential jurors: a retired police officer and a former assistant district attorney. However, the defense counsel did not object when the trial court denied these challenges.The Court of Appeal set aside the conviction, stating that despite the lack of formal objection, the defense counsel's reasons for the challenges and subsequent use of peremptory challenges to remove the jurors were sufficient to preserve the issue for review.The Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed, ruling that according to the Code of Criminal Procedure art. 800(A), a defendant must object contemporaneously to a ruling refusing to sustain a challenge for cause in order to assign it as an error on appeal. The court found that the defense counsel's acquiescence without objection did not meet this requirement. Therefore, it reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal, reinstated the conviction and sentence, and affirmed them. The court emphasized that the legislature's language in Article 800(A) was clear: an objection must be made at the time of the ruling, and the nature and grounds for the objection must be stated at that time. View "STATE OF LOUISIANA VS. JOSE M. SAGASTUME" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the State’s application to review the court of appeal’s determination that the State failed to prove that 16-year-old D.W. was the person who entered a sheriff’s vehicle and stole firearms from inside it, and therefore that the evidence was insufficient to support the delinquency adjudication for burglary involving a firearm, La. R.S. 14:62, and theft of a firearm, La. R.S. 14:67.15. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court found the State presented sufficient evidence that D.W. was a principal, in accordance with La. R.S. 14:24, to these felony-grade delinquent acts regardless of whether he personally entered the vehicle and took the firearms that were inside it himself. Therefore, the Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the delinquency adjudication and dispositions imposed by the juvenile court, which were then affirmed. View "Louisiana in the interest of D.W." on Justia Law

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In October 2003, the state charged defendant William Lee, Jr. with one count of second degree murder. In 2007, a unanimous jury found defendant guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. The conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. In October 2021, defendant and the District Attorney filed a “Joint Motion to Amend Conviction and Sentence Pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 930.10.” In the motion, the parties stipulated to certain facts relating to the cause of the victim’s death: they agreed that new evidence obtained in May 2020 would have bolstered defendant’s case at trial by supporting the defense theory that the victim’s fatal injuries were caused by her falling on her own accord. Based on this new evidence, the parties agreed that “a fair and just resolution” of the case would be to amend defendant’s conviction from second degree murder to manslaughter, and for the court to vacate the life without parole sentence and impose a sentence of 35 years imprisonment at hard labor. The district court granted the joint motion, vacated defendant’s second degree murder conviction and the previously-imposed life without parole sentence, accepted defendant’s guilty plea to manslaughter, and imposed the agreed-upon 35-year sentence with credit for time served. In March 2022, the Louisiana Attorney General filed a pleading entitled, “Motion and Incorporated Memorandum to Vacate Post-Conviction Plea Agreement as Unconstitutional.” The Attorney General argued that Article 930.10 of the Code of Criminal Procedure unconstitutionally permitted courts to grant clemency to criminal defendants, a power that was expressly and exclusively granted to the governor. To this the Louisiana Supreme Court concurred, and reversed the district court and reinstated defendant's second degree murder conviction. View "Louisiana v. Lee" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was a matter of first impression: whether a defendant who is charged with first degree murder can elect a bench trial when the state has filed a formal notice that it will not seek capital punishment. The question presented involved the interpretation of Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 780, specifically the meaning of the phrase “an offense other than one punishable by death.” In February 2021, defendant John Shallerhorn was arrested for several offenses, including on suspicion of first degree murder. The state filed notice that “for any charges for which the grand jury returns an indictment in [this] case, the State will elect to forego capital punishment.” Shallerhorn was ultimately indicted for first degree murder and armed robbery. Defendant filed a motion for a bench trial, seeking to waive his right to a trial by jury pursuant to the provisions of La. C.Cr.P. article 780. The state opposed this motion, and the trial court, agreeing with the state, denied it. The trial court noted that though the state was not currently pursuing the death penalty, “if something changes at the DA’s office and somehow death is back on the table,” then the defendant could not waive a jury and elect a bench trial. The Supreme Court held that after the state provides formal notice that it will not seek the death penalty, and thereby elects to prosecute the offense of first degree murder as a non-capital case, a defendant may waive a trial by jury and elect a bench trial. View "Louisiana v. Shallerhorn" on Justia Law

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Defendant Marshall Alexander, Jr. was found guilty as charged of the second degree murder of Scott Latiolais. On March 29, 2002, Latiolais’s body was found in a field in St. Martin Parish. He was killed by a shotgun wound to the back. It was the State’s theory, which was evidently accepted by the jury, that defendant and his cousin, Timothy Roberts, intended to rob the victim, who was then shot in the back when he tried to flee. The State’s own case predominantly established Roberts’s guilt while the evidence against defendant, cobbled together from inconsistent statements and testimony, was minimal. The court of appeal found the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant shot the victim or that defendant knew his cousin had intended to rob the victim before he shot him. To this, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, and affirmed the appellate court's decision which reversed defendant's conviction. View "Lousiana v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from Wilbert Jones’ suit for compensation under La. R.S. 15:572.8 (“Wrongful Conviction Compensation Statute”). Jones was indicted for the rape of A.H. on April 3, 1972. At trial, he testified that he did not rape A.H. and that he participated in a lineup because he was certain of his innocence. Despite earlier equivocations, A.H. testified that Jones was her assailant. In 2011, Jones filed a petition for post-conviction relief seeking DNA testing. He also presented additional evidence of similarities between A.H.’s rape and one committed by Arnold Ray O’Conner. A trial court ruled the State had committed a Brady violation, observing the near-identical modus operandi of the rape of O’Conner’s victim and that of A.H. The State ultimately dismissed the indictment against Jones and he was released from prison after nearly fifty years of confinement. Jones subsequently filed a petition for compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment relying on the factual findings of district court Judge Anderson and testimony by Dr. Margaret Kovera, an expert in eyewitness identification. Conducting a de novo review of the record, the court of appeal found Jones met his burden and remanded the matter to the trial court to determine the amount of compensation due. The Louisiana Supreme Court found no error in the court of appeal's determination, and affirmed its judgment. View "Jones v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the State's petition for review to determine whether the court of appeal erred in reversing the district court's denial of post-conviction relief. The court of appeal found trial counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms when a prospective juror was not challenged for cause for her employment with the district attorney. The court of appeal also found respondent suffered prejudice when that juror, initially an alternate, was then seated on the jury. The Supreme Court pretermitted the question of counsel’s deficient performance or error, finding legal error in the court of appeal’s prejudice determination under the Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). "Here, the record does not establish prejudice. The verdict is neither unreliable nor would it have likely been different absent the alleged error. The court of appeal ruling is reversed and the ruling of the district court denying respondent’s application for post-conviction relief is reinstated." View "Louisiana v. Chandler" on Justia Law