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On March 27, 2015, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy encountered a truck stopped in the middle of the roadway late at night. He found defendant Calvin Lewis inside attempting to restart the truck. Defendant, who smelled of alcohol and whose speech was slurred, explained that the truck had just stalled and would not restart. The deputy noticed that the truck’s engine was still quite warm when he attempted to restart it with jumper cables. The truck could not be restarted, however, and was eventually towed away. There were no alcohol containers in or around the vehicle. When defendant got out of the truck, he leaned on it to steady himself. Defendant was arrested after he failed field sobriety tests. At trial, defendant denied he was in the truck attempting to restart it when the deputy arrived. Defendant claimed he drank alcohol after the vehicle stalled, threw the empty bottle into the grass, and he was just leaving to walk to his cousin's house for help when the deputy arrived. The trial court found defendant guilty as charged and sentenced him to serve 60 days in parish jail, suspended, 48 hours of in-home incarceration, and 11 months of probation. Finding the evidence sufficient, when viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution for the trial court to reasonably conclude defendant operated his vehicle while intoxicated until it stalled, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal and reinstated defendant’s conviction and sentence. View "Louisiana v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Baton Rouge police officers found two juveniles passed out at 1 a.m. in a truck parked at a McDonald’s restaurant. A strong odor of marijuana emanated from the open windows. Fifteen-year-old C.T. was seated in the front passenger seat with a pistol in his lap. A search revealed a bag of marijuana in the driver’s possession as well as a burnt marijuana cigarette in the center console. Crystal Etue had reported the truck stolen several weeks earlier. She did not know either juvenile or authorize them to use the truck. C.T. was adjudicated delinquent for illegally carrying a weapon while in possession of a controlled dangerous substance, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The juvenile court committed him to the custody of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections until he turned twenty-one. The court of appeal affirmed the adjudication and commitment. Finding no reversible error in the adjudication and commitment, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. View "Louisiana in the Interest of C.T." on Justia Law

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An employee of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, while conducting a search of Tier C2 of Orleans Parish Prison, discovered a cell phone secreted in a crevice of the wall of the day room. An investigation, including a warrantless search of the phone’s contents, revealed that defendant Keith Kisack used the phone to send text messages and take “selfies” while housed on that tier. Defendant was charged by bill of information with possession of contraband while in a penal institution. A jury found defendant guilty as charged. The State filed a habitual offender bill of information, alleging defendant to be a fourth-felony offender. Defendant moved for a new trial and to quash the habitual offender bill, which the trial court denied before commencing the hearing on the habitual offender bill of information. The trial court found defendant to be a fourth-felony offender and sentenced him to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on whether defense counsel waived the sentencing delay required by La.C.Cr.P. art. 873, and whether the State proved that less than ten years elapsed between defendant’s most recent predicate offense and the present offense as required by La.R.S. 15:529.1(C). Finding that the State carried its burden of proof here, the Supreme Court nonetheless emphasized La.R.S. 15:529.1(C) imposed a requirement on the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the 10-year period has not elapsed in a habitual offender adjudication in the district court. In addition, the Court directed the court of appeal to recognize that the State’s failure to carry that burden is an error patent on appeal. However, the Supreme Court also found the court of appeal disregarded the plain language of Article 873, which required an explicit waiver of the statutory sentencing delay, by surmising defense counsel “implicitly waived” the delay by participating in the sentencing hearing. Therefore, the Court vacated the habitual offender adjudication and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Kisack" on Justia Law

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The State charged defendant Fahim Shaikh with simple kidnapping, and indecent behavior with a juvenile. The charges arose from an incident involving 13-year-old A.G. on April 17, 2014, after she ran away from home while her mother was out. He took A.G. to his apartment, eventually delivering her to a friend's house, where the friend's mother made A.G. call the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Department. Deputies, posing as A.G. arranged through text messages to meet defendant, and arrested him after he initially tried to flee from them. A Beauregard Parish jury found defendant guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced defendant to five years imprisonment at hard labor, with two years suspended, for simple kidnapping, and to seven years imprisonment at hard labor, with three years suspended, for indecent behavior. The court of appeal vacated the conviction for indecent behavior and found that the five-year sentence for simple kidnapping was excessive. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded: "While it may be true that the sentence is longer than those imposed in other cases, this fact alone does not demonstrate a manifest abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court. Moreover, it is important to note that while defendant received the maximum sentence, the trial court suspended 40% of that sentence. Thus, defendant will likely serve far less than the five years imposed. Under the circumstances, the sentence is an acceptable exercise of the trial court’s broad discretion. Therefore, we reinstate the sentence for simple kidnapping as originally imposed. Because defendant argued on appeal that his sentence for indecent behavior is excessive, which issue the court of appeal did not reach because it vacated the underlying conviction," the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Shaikh" on Justia Law

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In 2011, a Lafayette police officer investigating a possible car burglary, stopped defendant Calvin Noel, III, who was walking down the middle of the road. As the officer patted him down, defendant told him that he “had a gun in his hip.” The officer determined from his computerized database system that defendant had prior felony convictions so he confiscated the gun and arrested him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant was charged by bill of information with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of certain felonies, to which he pleaded not guilty. Pursuant to defendant’s pretrial motion, a sanity commission was appointed to determine his competency to proceed as well as offer an opinion as to his sanity at the time of the offense. The two members of the sanity commission agreed that defendant was competent despite his chronic paranoid schizophrenia. They noted his history of repeated psychiatric hospitalizations and his paranoia, grandiosity, and impulsivity. They also noted his tattoos (which included “insane” on his right hand and “crazy” on the left). The trial court found defendant competent to proceed. A jury would ultimately find defendant guilty as charged. Defendant was sentenced to fifteen years in prison at hard labor without parole, and fined him $2,500. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, finding defendant produced "an indicia of insanity" and the district court erred in finding good cause was not shown because defendant was engaging in a dilatory tactic because he changed his plea (from "not guilty" to "not guilty by reason of insanity"). Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal, vacated the conviction and sentence, and remanded for a new trial. View "Louisiana v. Noel" on Justia Law

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In 2009, plaintiff Nikola Vekic sought to buy three oyster leases which were jointly owned by Dragutin Popich and his daughters Mary Popich and Helen Popich Harris (collectively “the Popich family”). Although the parties disputed the content of the discussions which took place between them regarding the sale of the three oyster leases, it was undisputed that the Popichs’ lawyer, Roger Harris (husband of Helen), transmitted a letter stating that Popich was “unwilling to do a credit sale.” Instead, Harris drafted and submitted an agreement entitled “Sublease Agreement With Option to Purchase” along with a proposed act of sale to Vekic, who reviewed the documents along with his attorney. Vekic executed the sublease agreement on April 14, 2009, without raising any issues regarding its contents. The terms of the artfully-crafted agreement differed significantly from a typical lease or sublease in that the Popich family transferred all of the rights and responsibilities of ownership to Vekic without the benefit of a formal transfer of title between the parties. Vekic was bound to pay the full $90,000 in “rent” regardless of whether the leases were damaged or were even subject to a complete taking. Vekic could not under any condition terminate the lease and was responsible for fulfilling all of the legal requirements to maintain the leases, including paying the $2 per-acre lease fee to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. After paying $60,000 of the "rent" owed, the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon well exploded, closing the area where the leases at issue here were located for a considerable amount of time. Vekic paid the Popich family the remaining $30,000 he owed under the agreement in May, 2011. On June 19, 2011, Mr. Vekic exercised his option to purchase, and the parties executed the act of sale, which had been prepared in 2009 along with the original agreement, without any modifications. In the wake of the spill, a class action lawsuit was filed against BP. Vekic filed a claim with the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claim Center (“DHECC”) which included the leases at issue. Helen Harris, also an attorney, prepared and filed claims for the Popich family, informing the DHECC of the 2009 agreement with Vekic and post-spill Act of Sale. A dispute arose regarding which party was entitled to the proceeds from the oil spill settlement for damages to certain oyster leases. The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeal and found that the trial court did not err in accepting evidence beyond the four corners of the contract at issue and did not manifestly err in its factual findings and ultimate interpretation that the agreement at issue entitled the plaintiff to the settlement proceeds for property damage to the leases at issue. View "Vekic v. Popich" on Justia Law

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The State charged defendant Skylar Frank, a former Oakdale police officer, with felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile, malfeasance in office, and obstruction of justice. The issue this case presented for review was whether the court of appeal erred in applying Louisiana’s jurisprudential “same evidence” test to find that defendant’s conviction for attempted felony carnal knowledge had to be set aside in light of his conviction for malfeasance in office, because it violated the prohibition against double jeopardy. Finding that no double jeopardy violation occurred, the Louisiana Supreme Court reinstated defendant’s conviction and sentence for attempted felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile. Furthermore, the Court found no significant difference between U.S. Const. Amend. V and La. Const. art. I, section 15 supporting the notion that Louisiana’s constitution afforded greater protection against double jeopardy than the federal constitution or required Louisiana courts to apply two distinct tests (one federal and one state) to analyze double jeopardy claims. Therefore, Louisiana courts are bound only to apply the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), to protect against double jeopardy and can dispense with Louisiana’s separate “same evidence” test. View "Louisiana v. Frank" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on whether the court of appeal erred in reversing the trial court’s ruling granting plaintiff’s special motion to strike defendant’s reconventional demand for defamation, pursuant to La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971 (the "anti-SLAPP" statute), where the appellate court found that plaintiff’s petition did not involve a “public issue.” Philip Shelton, M.D. married Judith Shelton in 2001. During their marriage, the couple each owned a life insurance policy that named the other as the beneficiary. At some point, Mrs. Shelton was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and Hepatorenal Syndrome (as a result of alcoholism. In July 2011, Mrs. Shelton was admitted to Ochsner Baptist Medical Center for treatment and was soon discharged to Woldenberg Village, an inpatient assisted living facility. Mrs. Shelton died on December 31, 2011, at the age of 64. After Mrs. Shelton's death, Dr. Shelton learned that she had changed her beneficiary to her personal assistant/paralegal/friend, Nancy Pavon. In November 2013, Dr. Shelton filed a Petition to Nullify Change of Beneficiary, alleging Mrs. Shelton had lacked the capacity to execute a change of beneficiary form due to her poor health, including dementia, confusion, disorientation, and personality changes. Alternatively, he alleged Mrs. Shelton's signature on the change of beneficiary form was a forgery or had been obtained through undue influence by Pavon. In response, Pavon filed an answer and reconventional demand alleging Dr. Shelton's petition constituted defamation per se. Dr. Shelton filed a Special Motion to Strike pursuant to La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971. Pavon opposed the motion, arguing that it should have been dismissed as a matter of law because Dr. Shelton’s petition to nullify did not involve a public issue. She also argued that a motion to strike was not the proper mechanism to dismiss her defamation claim. The trial court granted Dr. SHelton's special motion to strike. The Supreme Court found the court of appeal was correct in reversing the trial court’s ruling. The Supreme Court held that La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971(F)(1)(a) required statements had to be "in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech ... in connection with a public issue.” View "Shelton v. Pavon" on Justia Law

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Ron Warren, individually and on behalf of the Estate of Derek Hebert, filed a petition for damages seeking to recover for the wrongful death of his son in a recreational boating accident under general maritime law and products liability. A jury found the defendant, Teleflex, Inc. liable under the plaintiff’s failure to warn theory of the case and awarded compensatory damages of $125,000 and punitive damages of $23,000,000. The court of appeal affirmed. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari mainly to review whether the trial court properly granted the plaintiff a new trial and whether the award of punitive damages was excessive and resulted in a violation of the defendant’s right to constitutional due process. After reviewing the record and the applicable law in this case, the Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court’s rulings; however, the Court did find the award of punitive damages was excessive and resulted in a violation of the defendant’s right to constitutional due process. View "Warren v. Shelter Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the court of appeal erred in reversing defendant Derek Dotson’s conviction for aggravated rape, finding that the trial judge abused his discretion in denying a challenge for cause of a prospective juror. During voir dire, the prospective juror gave an equivocal answer as to whether she could be impartial after indicating her mother had been the victim of a violent crime. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the record of the voir dire proceeding was “bereft of any information that would clarify the prospective juror’s response, and the remainder of her responses during voir dire indicate that she would be impartial.” As such, deference should have been afforded by the appellate court to the trial court’s ruling on the challenge. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision, and the matter was remanded to the appellate court for determination of the remaining issue raised on appeal by defendant. View "Louisiana v. Dotson" on Justia Law