Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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Defendant Margaret Stockstill killed Cody Couch during an alcohol-fueled argument and physical fight in the home of Kristin Copeland on April 14, 2017, in Folsom, Louisiana. Couch and Copeland had a five-month-old daughter together, who was present in the home during the conflict along with Copeland’s six-year-old son. The conflict began when Couch, who had a pending DWI charge, borrowed defendant’s car to go out drinking with friends rather than spend the evening at home with Copeland. After Couch left, Copeland drank, complained to defendant about him, and angrily called and texted him at the bar repeatedly. Copeland set some clothing on fire in the yard and sent him a picture of it. Copeland told Couch not to return that night, piled some of his belongings on the porch, and locked him out. Couch eventually returned, entering through the back door. He refused to leave and the conflict escalated. Couch and the two women argued and fought. They fought throughout the home and broke furniture, including a crib with the youngest child still in it. The fight ended when defendant shot Couch once at close range. Defendant was indicted for second degree murder; she claimed self-defense. Defendant was ultimately convicted as charged, for which she was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without being eligible for parole. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction and sentence. Under the circumstances of this case, the Louisiana Supreme Court found there was a "reasonable possibility" that erroneously admitted evidence could have contributed to the jury’s decision to reject defendant’s claim that she acted in defense of herself or another, and to the jury’s decision to return a verdict of guilty of second degree murder rather than a verdict of guilty of manslaughter. The appellate court's ruling was reversed and the sentence vacated. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "Louisiana v. Stockstill" on Justia Law

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Defendant Nicholas Revish was found guilty of the second degree murder of Latrell Davis and the attempted second degree murder of Jamond Rougeau. All three were in Rougeau’s parked vehicle on March 26, 2012, in Baton Rouge when violence erupted from a dispute over cocaine. Rougeau’s weapon was used to shoot Rougeau and Davis. Rougeau identified defendant as the shooter. Defendant, however, turned himself in to police, admitted he shot Rougeau and Davis, but claimed he did so in self-defense. The district court sentenced defendant to serve concurrent terms of life imprisonment at hard labor without parole eligibility for second degree murder and 25 years imprisonment at hard labor for attempted second degree murder. The court of appeal vacated the convictions and sentences because it found trial counsel provided ineffective assistance sufficient to deprive defendant of a fair trial by failing to object to a defective jury instruction on self-defense. The court of appeal remanded for a new trial. While awaiting retrial and after several delays, defendant moved to quash the indictment in which he contended the State failed to timely commence the new trial. In opposing this motion, the State argued that when the court of appeal’s order of a new trial became final, the slate was wiped clean, the clock restarted, and the State had a new two-year period to commence trial. The parties also disputed whether the time to commence trial was interrupted by the filing of various motions, and, if so, when the interruptions ceased. The district court rejected the State’s interpretation of Articles 578 and 582 and granted defendant’s motion to quash. The State appealed. Finding that the State miscalculated the time afforded by statute to retry a defendant following mistrial, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision to grant defendant's motion to quash. View "Louisiana v. Revish" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Louisiana filed a bill of information charging defendant, Tazin Ardell Hill, with altering an official identification card to conceal his designation as a registered sex offender. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review involved the constitutionality of the statutory requirement that persons convicted of sex offenses carry an identification card branded with the words “SEX OFFENDER.” Other states (and the federal government) have enacted similar collections of laws. However, the specific requirement to carry a branded identification card distinguished Louisiana from the rest of the country. The Court found this requirement constituted compelled speech and did not survive a First Amendment strict scrutiny analysis. Thus, the Court upheld the trial court’s ruling striking this specific requirement as unconstitutional and quashing the prosecution of defendant for altering his identification card to conceal the “SEX OFFENDER” designation. View "Louisiana v. Hill" on Justia Law

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In 2006, defendant Dennis Bartie stabbed his former girlfriend more than 20 times in front of eyewitnesses in Baton Rouge and then stole her friend’s car, which he drove to Lake Charles and abandoned. He was found guilty of attempted second degree murder, and sentenced to 40 years imprisonment at hard labor. He was serving that sentence at Allen Correctional Center in 2016 when DNA testing connected him to the victim of an unsolved murder committed in 1998. In 1998, Rose Born was murdered at her donut shop in Lake Charles. She was stabbed more than 30 times. Her car was stolen and then abandoned about 4 miles away. Defendant was 17 years old at the time and lived in Lake Charles. Defendant was interviewed at the correctional center for the 1998 murder; he would have been categorically exempt from capital punishment because he was 17 years old at the time of that crime. Investigators informed defendant the law had changed and a special sentencing hearing was required before a person who commits second degree murder as a juvenile can be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility. Defendant thereafter confessed to the 1998 murder. When charged with the murder, defendant sought to suppress his statements to investigators. In its brief, the State characterized falsely informing defendant he would receive the death penalty if he did not satisfactorily confess as permissible tactical deception, and argued that, regardless of whether the deception was permissible, it did not render defendant’s confession involuntary because he was hardened, experienced in the legal system, and "unaffected by the toothless threats." The district court denied defendant's motion, finding that the totality of the circumstances indicated defendant’s statements during the recorded interview were free and voluntary. The court of appeal determined defendant repeatedly invoked his right to remain silent, but that police ignored the invocation. The Louisiana Supreme Court found defendant’s statements during the police interview from roughly the 48-minute mark onward were made in violation of Miranda, were not free and voluntary, and therefore not admissible for any purpose including impeachment at the trial. The Court reinstated the district court’s ruling that the first 48 minutes were admissible to the extent authorized by the rules of evidence. The matter was remanded to the district court for further consideration of whether defendant's statements during the police interview following the 48-minute mark were not free and voluntary. View "Lousiana v. Bartie" on Justia Law

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Defendant Keddrick Kennon was convicted by jury of distribution of cocaine and possession of cocaine. The district court sentenced defendant to serve two terms of imprisonment at hard labor: 30 years and five years, to run consecutively. The court of appeal affirmed the convictions and sentences (as amended to reflect that the first two years of the 30-year sentence for distribution of cocaine were to be served without parole eligibility). Thereafter, the State filed a habitual offender bill of information, alleging that defendant was a fourth-felony offender with predicate felony convictions for distribution of cocaine, possession of cocaine, and attempted possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Defendant admitted he was a second-felony offender (based on the attempted possession of cocaine with intent to distribute predicate) and received an agreed-upon sentence of 60 years imprisonment at hard labor. The district court, however, had vacated both sentences before it imposed the 60-year sentence. Defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, which the district court denied. Because defendant received a single 60-year sentence despite being convicted of two crimes, the court of appeal granted defendant’s application for supervisory writs. The court of appeal then vacated the habitual offender sentence and remanded for resentencing. On remand, the trial court reimposed the originally agreed-upon sentence of 60 years imprisonment at hard labor as a second-felony offender for distribution of cocaine. The district court also sentenced defendant to a concurrent term of five years imprisonment at hard labor for the possession of cocaine conviction. The court of appeal affirmed the sentences. On appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, defendant argued his 60-year habitual offender sentence was reviewable despite it being imposed originally pursuant to a plea agreement, and that it was excessive in violation of the prohibition against cruel, excessive, or unusual punishment contained in La. Const. Art. 1, section 20. The Supreme Court found the 60-year sentence was both reviewable and excessive, and therefore set it aside. However, because the sentence was negotiated as part of a plea agreement in which defendant admitted his status as a second-felony offender, the Court also set aside the habitual offender adjudication, restored the parties to the status quo ante by reinstating the unenhanced sentences (30 years and 5 years, to run consecutively) that were affirmed as amended in Kennon-1, and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Kennon" on Justia Law

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In 2015, fishermen in Cocodrie, Louisiana noticed a large Rubbermaid tote floating near a dock. The next day, they called the police after they spotted clothing and a human arm sticking out of it. Inside the tote, police found a decomposing body, which was later identified as Robbie Coulon, the victim and a lifelong friend of defendant Simon Quinn. The victim lived in defendant’s Houma apartment, in apparent violation of the rental agreement. Friction between the two developed as the victim repeatedly ignored defendant’s instructions to refrain from doing anything that could draw the attention of the property manager to the victim’s unauthorized presence. In addition, the victim pawned some of defendant’s belongings, including an Xbox belonging to defendant’s son. Defendant would ultimately be indicted for the second degree murder of Coulon, and for obstruction of justice by tampering with evidence of Coulon’s murder. A jury found defendant guilty as charged; he was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without eligibility for parole (for murder), and a consecutive term to 50 years imprisonment for second-felony offender obstruction of justice. A divided court of appeal reversed the conviction for second degree murder and affirmed the conviction for obstruction. Defendant appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the court of appeal, which reversed defendant’s conviction for second degree murder, and affirmed defendant’s conviction for obstruction of justice, his habitual offender adjudication, and his sentence for obstruction. View "Louisiana v. Quinn" on Justia Law

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Defendant Robert Ricard, Jr. was indicted on two counts of the aggravated rape of his niece, K.M., then aged 12. Defendant regularly babysat K.M. and her siblings in exchange for lodging in the home of his sister’s family. At trial, defendant’s younger sister (who was not the mother of K.M.), age 25, testified that defendant had raped her several times when she was 10 years old but that she did not reveal the abuse to her older sister, K.M.’s mother, until she heard the allegations that defendant raped K.M. The jury acquitted defendant of one count of aggravated rape, and found him guilty of the lesser offense of molestation of a juvenile, in response to the second count of aggravated rape. The charged offenses carried a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole eligibility. The jury was instructed that 10 of 12 jurors must agree to reach a verdict. Upon the jury’s return to the courtroom, however, the judge misspoke and asked whether nine jurors concurred in the responsive verdict, but the jury was not polled. Despite being instructed that sentencing is not the function of the jury but rather is the duty and responsibility of the judge, the jury was also informed of the sentencing range for each lesser responsive crime. Unfortunately, the court misinformed the jury that the sentencing range for molestation of a juvenile is five to 20 years imprisonment, when in fact the correct sentence for that crime is much greater because of the victim's age. Defendant did not object to the jury instructions and did not bring the error to the district court’s attention until sentencing when the State objected to the leniency of the 20-year sentence that the court initially imposed. The State subsequently filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging that defendant was a third-felony habitual offender. After negotiations, however, defendant accepted the State’s offer to waive the mandatory minimum sentence of 66 years. The court of appeal affirmed the conviction, habitual offender adjudication, and sentence. Defendant’s timely application for post-conviction relief was denied by the district court. Finding no reversible error, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed denial of relief on collateral review. View "Louisiana v. Ricard" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, defendant Jason Michael drove his truck into a smaller vehicle on Louisiana Highway 44 in Ascension Parish and then fled the scene of the accident. He was found by police a few miles away. His vehicle was heavily damaged, and its debris was found at the scene of the crash. In addition to defendant, two other people were injured in the crash: Bree Lavigne and her minor son Lucas. The State charged defendant with two counts of first degree vehicular negligent injury, one count of hit-and-run driving, and one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Defendant moved to suppress the BAC results, alleging that the trooper misinformed him that under La. R.S. 32:666 he could not refuse the blood test because serious injury resulted from the crash and that defendant’s consent was therefore coerced. The district court denied the motion to suppress after a hearing. Defendant unsuccessfully sought supervisory review from the court of appeal. He appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, contending the BAD blood draw had to be suppressed because he consented only after being threatened with criminal consequences if he refused. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless BAC blood test. View "Louisiana v. Michael" on Justia Law

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Derrick Harris was serving a life sentence pursuant to Louisiana's Habitual Offender law. The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on whether Harris could claim ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing on post-conviction review. Given the fundamental right involved, after a review of the record, the Court held Harris' ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing claim was cognizable on collateral review. Thus, the Court granted the relator’s writ, in part, and remanded the matter to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing to consider his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. View "Louisiana v. Harris" on Justia Law

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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