Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Codefendants Darryl Jones, Cecil Beals, and Calvin Williams were indicted, tried together, and found guilty of the second degree murder of their associate Gerald Wilkins. The evidence presented at trial established that Beals, Williams, and the victim regularly visited defendant Darryl Jones’s home in Baton Rouge. Beals lived in defendant’s garage. Notably, all were present there on the day and evening before Wilkins was killed. Wilkins was found alongside Panama Road in Sorrento, dead, with two gunshot wounds to the head. The victim was holding a crack pipe and appeared to have been shot while he was urinating. A witness heard the gunshots and saw a distinctive vehicle (like that owned by defendant and often used by Beals) speeding down Panama Road between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. on January 12, 2013. Officers obtained surveillance video showing Beals at a gas station near the crime scene with defendant’s vehicle at 3:38 a.m. The surveillance video also showed an unidentified driver and an unidentified backseat passenger. The court of appeal found this evidence sufficient to prove that defendant Jones was a principal to the murder although he was not present at the time of the murder. The appellate panel’s dissent found the circumstantial evidence presented at trial was insufficient to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Defendant appealed, and the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed. Here, as the dissent found, “[t]he record is void of evidence that [defendant] gave any counsel to Beals or Williams, directly or indirectly, in the commission of the crime. Based on the evidence presented, the jury could only speculate defendant was guilty as a principal.” View "Louisiana v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Defendant Larry Broussard, Jr. was convicted of aggravated flight from an officer. During voir dire, defense counsel challenged, pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, the state’s use of a backstrike against an African-American female prospective juror from the first panel. Specifically, defense counsel noted that the state had not previously challenged this prospective juror for cause and stated without further elaboration that “it seems like she’s one of two potential black jurors.” In response to the trial court’s request for a race-neutral reason for the backstrike, the state ultimately gave two: (1) the prospective juror’s occupation as a housekeeper; and (2) she was not intelligent enough to be a juror. After the trial court resoundingly rejected the state’s characterization of the prospective juror’s intelligence, the state then claimed she was inattentive during the questioning of the second panel. In a split-panel decision, the court of appeal reversed, with the majority finding a Batson violation in the state’s exclusion of the backstruck prospective juror, and thereby deeming a second assignment of error moot. The court of appeal vacated the conviction and sentence and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. The state contended the court of appeal erred in failing to recognize that defendant was never required to make a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination in Batson’s first step. The state also contended that, even if a prima facie showing was made, both of its reasons for backstriking the prospective juror were racially neutral, and the trial court never found that they were pretexts for purposeful discrimination. Therefore, the state claims that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Batson challenge. The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed: “While we are mindful that a trial court’s determination as to purposeful discrimination rests largely on credibility evaluations and is therefore entitled to great deference, we note that the trial court rejected the state’s first proffered reason and we cannot presume the trial court accepted the state’s demeanor-based proffered reason. Therefore, we find that the court of appeal correctly applied ‘Snyder’ [Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472 (2010)] to vacate the conviction and sentence and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.” The court of appeal’s decision was affirmed. View "Louisiana v. Broussard" on Justia Law

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Relator John Esteen, along with 22 others, was charged with several drug and racketeering offenses committed in 1998 and 1999. Relator was ultimately found guilty of two counts of possession of cocaine over 400 grams, conspiracy to possess cocaine over 400 grams, and attempted possession of cocaine over 400 grams. The district court sentenced him to consecutive terms of imprisonment at hard labor totaling 150 years. His convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal. In 2016, relator filed a motion to correct illegal sentences seeking the benefit of more lenient penalty provisions that were enacted by the Louisiana Legislature in 2001, La. Acts 403 (effective June 15, 2001). The legislature later declared La.R.S. 15:308(B) (effective May 16, 2006) would “apply to the class of persons who committed crimes, who were convicted, or who were sentenced” in accordance with enumerated provisions, including those pursuant to which relator was sentenced on three counts. The district court denied the motion and the court of appeal denied writs, relying on Louisiana v. Dick, 951 So.2d 124. On appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, Relator contended that La.R.S. 15:308(A) and (B), as revised by the legislature, rendered his sentences for possession of cocaine over 400 grams and attempted possession of cocaine over 400 grams illegal. The Supreme Court found that a more lenient penalty provision applied retroactively in accordance with La.R.S. 15:308(B), and relator’s remedy was by resentencing in the district court pursuant to his motion to correct illegal sentences. Accordingly, his sentence was vacated, and the matter remanded to the district court for resentencing. View "Louisiana ex rel. John Esteen v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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Although the Louisiana Constitution generally restricts the government from expropriating private property, it provides broad exceptions for public port authorities. The Constitution provides that the government can expropriate property for “[p]ublic ports . . . to facilitate the transport of goods or persons in domestic or international commerce.” The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine whether St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District’s (the “Port”) expropriation of property owned by Violet Dock Port, Inc., L.L.C. (“Violet”) on the Mississippi River satisfied the “public purpose” requirement of art. I, section 4(B)(1) of the Louisiana Constitution and, further, whether it violated the business enterprise clause of art. I, section 4(B)(6). The Court found the record demonstrated that the Port’s expropriation was for the public purpose “to facilitate the transport of goods or persons in domestic or international commerce” and not for the constitutionally prohibited purpose of operating Violet’s enterprise or halting competition with a government enterprise. Therefore, the Court affirmed the court of appeal’s judgment that the expropriation was constitutional. However, the Supreme Court also found the trial court made a legal error in setting the just compensation due to Violet under art. I, section 4(B)(1), and further found the court of appeal failed to correct that error. This case was remanded to the court of appeal solely for the purpose of fixing the amount of just compensation based on the evidence in the record and in accordance with the principles discussed by the Supreme Court in this opinion. View "St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal Dist. v. Violet Dock Port, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s review centered on the constitutionality of La. R.S. 32:667, particularly paragraphs La. R.S. 32:667 (H)(3) and (I)(1)(a). Plaintiff David Carver was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) pursuant to La. R.S. 14:98. Plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical test for intoxication and his license was suspended for 180 days. The arrest did not result in a conviction, as Plaintiff participated in a pre-trial diversion program. Plaintiff alleged La. R.S. 32:667 (H)(3) and (I)(1)(a) violated the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. Following the District Court’s finding that the paragraphs violated the Due Process Clauses, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Office of Motor Vehicles (the State) directly appealed that finding to the Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court found that the applicable paragraphs did not violate the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. Thus, the Court reversed the District Court’s judgment of unconstitutionality and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Carver v. Louisiana Dept. of Pub. Safety" on Justia Law

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Acting pro se, defendant Reggie Thibodeaux was charged with several delony and misdemeanor drug offenses as well as with resisting arrest, moved to suppress the evidence. Defendant was represented by counsel; the trial court denied his pro se motion because he was represented by counsel. Defendant filed additional pro se motions, each was denied by the trial court. Still acting pro se, defendant appealed to the court of appeal seeking review, inter alia, of the denial of his motion to suppress. The court of appeal granted the application in part and directed the trial court to conduct a hearing to afford defense counsel an opportunity to adopt the motion. Citing Louisiana v. Melon, 95-2209 (La. 9/22/95), 660 So.2d 466, the court of appeal found that “[l]ower courts are required to accept and consider pro se filings from represented defendants in a preverdict context whenever doing so will not lead to confusion at trial.” The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal and remanded for the trial court to determine whether defense counsel wished to adopt defendant's pro se motion to suppress, and if not, evaluate its disruptive potential in light of Melon before determining whether to conduct a hearing consistent with Louisiana v. Alexander, 07-1236 (La. App. 3 Cir. 4/9/08), 980 So.2d 877. View "Louisiana v. Thibodeaux" on Justia Law

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In 2009, 39-year-old D.A. accused her cousins William and Lionel Sergine of sexually abusing her when she was a child. Other family members, B.M. and M.S., also came forward to accuse William of sexually abusing them. Because of these accusations, Lionel was indicted for the aggravated rape of D.A. committed before 1981. William was separately indicted for the aggravated rape of D.A. committed in or after 1981, sexual battery of B.M., and aggravated incest of his daughter, M.S. After the trial court denied the state’s motion to try the defendants together, the state convened a second grand jury and obtained new indictments. The co-defendants’ motions to sever their trials were denied and the matter proceeded to a bench trial. After D.A. testified, William and Lionel moved again to sever and for a mistrial. The trial court denied the motions and declined to review the grand jury testimony. Lionel was found guilty as charged of aggravated rape, and William guilty of forcible rape, not guilty of a second count of aggravated rape, and guilty of sexual battery and aggravated incest. The court sentenced Lionel to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, and sentenced William to a total of 40 years imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. The court of appeal vacated the convictions and sentences, because after reading the grand jury transcript, it found no evidence William and Lionel jointly raped D.A. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded: "under the unusual circumstances presented here, faced with a record inadequate to evaluate this issue, and mindful of the constitutional prohibition against appellate factfinding in a criminal matter, we remand to the district court to determine whether the grand jury testimony contains undisclosed material warranting new trials for Lionel and William in accordance with Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972) and United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 682 (1985)." Thereafter, the Court held Lionel and William could seek review in the court of appeal with regard to any unfavorable ruling by the district court. William could also seek review of his claim of prejudicial misjoinder as well as any pretermitted assignments of error. Lionel’s conviction and sentence were reinstated. In addition, the court of appeal’s determination that William Serigne was entitled to a new trial was reversed, and his convictions and sentences were also reinstated. The matter was remanded to the trial court to determine if Lionel and William were entitled to new trials based on undisclosed material in the grand jury testimony. Thereafter, Lionel and William could appeal any unfavorable determination by the district court on remand as well as seek appellate review of any previously pretermitted assignments of error. View "Louisiana v. Serigne" on Justia Law

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This matter arose out of a challenge to the validity of a municipal ordinance whereby citations based on traffic camera images, could be reviewed at an administrative hearing. The case went before the Louisiana Supreme Court after a district court declared the administrative review process, as it existed during 2008 through 2012, was unconstitutional. Specifically, the district court declared the administrative review process violated the due process and access to court provisions of the Louisiana Constitution. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court determined this case was rendered moot. "While the record reveals a convoluted development of this case, what emerges from the trial record is that this case resulted in a number of changes, both legislative and practical, to the administrative review process. Although this case is technically moot, the end result is that the plaintiffs have achieved vindication of the constitutional rights for which they advocated." View "Rand v. City of New Orleans" on Justia Law

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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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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