Justia Louisiana Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant Kenneth Gleason was convicted for the first-degree murder of Donald Smart, for which he received a life sentence. After giving notice he intended to appeal, Gleason died in prison. The court of appeal dismissed the appeal, vacated the conviction, and remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the indictment. The State appealed, arguing the Louisiana Supreme Court should overrule precedent adopting the abatement ab initio doctrine. To this, the Supreme Court concurred, finding that “[t]o abate a conviction would be as to say there has been no crime and there is no victim. Accordingly, we abandon the doctrine and hold that when a defendant dies during the pendency of an appeal, the appeal shall be dismissed and the trial court shall enter a notation in the record that the conviction removed the defendant’s presumption of innocence but was neither affirmed nor reversed on appeal due to the defendant’s death.” View "Louisiana v. Gleason" on Justia Law

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Defendant Brian Clarke was charged with one count of home invasion. He provided notice of his intent to present the affirmative defense of voluntary intoxication at trial. In response, the State filed a motion in limine seeking to prohibit defendant from asserting an intoxication defense because, in the State’s view, home invasion was a general intent crime. The trial court granted the State’s motion. The court of appeal granted defendant’s writ application, and found that home invasion was a specific intent crime to which defendant was entitled to present voluntary intoxication as an affirmative defense. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted defendant’s application to determine whether the court of appeal correctly found that voluntary intoxication was an affirmative defense to the crime of home invasion. Based on the clear language of the statute that defines the crime of home invasion, La.R.S. 14:62.8, the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeal that specific intent was a necessary element of the offense. "Therefore, whether voluntary intoxication is sufficient to preclude specific intent in this case is a question to be resolved by the trier of fact." Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting the State’s motion in limine to prohibit defendant from asserting voluntary intoxication as an affirmative defense. View "Louisiana v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ladarious Brown was arrested for several offenses stemming from a domestic incident, but he was ultimately charged with two crimes: illegal use of weapons; and aggravated flight from an officer. A jury found defendant guilty as charged. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted defendant’s application to determine whether the court of appeal correctly applied Louisiana v. Mayeux, 498 So.2d 701 (La. 1986) in finding that defendant’s conviction for attempted aggravated flight from an officer was a nullity and therefore jeopardy had not attached. The Supreme Court found that it previously erred in its double jeopardy analysis in Mayeux, and the court of appeal erred here in deciding whether jeopardy had attached. Nevertheless, the court of appeal correctly vacated the conviction for attempted aggravated flight from an officer as a non-crime that was not responsive to the charge of aggravated flight from an officer. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal’s decision insofar as it found jeopardy had not attached, but otherwise affirmed the decision vacating the conviction for attempted aggravated flight from an officer. View "Louisiana v. Brown" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a 2016 road rage incident that led to the shooting death of Joseph McKnight. A grand jury indicted the defendant Ronald Gasser for second degree murder. The case proceeded to a trial before a twelve-person jury in January, 2018. The jury was presented with a verdict sheet listing the crime of second degree murder and three responsive verdicts: guilty of manslaughter, guilty of negligent homicide and not guilty. By a vote of ten to two, the jury convicted defendant of the lesser included offense of manslaughter and defendant was sentenced to thirty years imprisonment at hard labor. While defendant's appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court rendered its opinion in Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S.Ct. 1390 (2020), holding that non-unanimous jury verdicts in state felony cases were unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court then granted defendant’s writ application and remanded the case to the Court of Appeal for patent review based on Ramos. Thereafter, and in accordance with Ramos, the Fifth Circuit found that defendant’s non-unanimous verdict entitled him to a new trial, vacated defendant’s conviction and sentence, and remanded the case to the trial court. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to review when a non-unanimous jury finds a defendant guilty of a lesser, statutorily responsive verdict to a charged offense, valid at the time of its rendering, if the conviction was later set aside as unconstitutional, did double jeopardy preclude the State from retrying the defendant on the originally charged offense? The lower courts found that it did, and the Supreme Court agreed: double jeopardy barred the reinstatement and retrial of a defendant on a higher charge when he was lawfully convicted of a lesser included offense, even though the conviction was later vacated. The Court further agreed with the lower courts that, in this case, defendant’s conviction of a lesser included offense operated as an implied acquittal of the higher charge. View "Louisiana v. Gasser" on Justia Law

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Defendant Chrystal Clues-Alexander was indicted for the second degree murder of her husband. She made two motions to declare former La.C.Cr.P. art. 782(A) unconstitutional, and require a unanimous jury at trial, which the district court denied. In 2018, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. She pleaded guilty unconditionally and did not reserve any issues for review pursuant to Louisiana v. Crosby, 338 So.2d 584 (La. 1976). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the court of appeal erred in ruling that defendant was entitled to withdraw her guilty plea based on Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S.Ct. 583, 206 L.Ed.2d 583 (2020). At the time defendant pleaded guilty, the district court advised her that she had the right to a jury trial. After she pleaded guilty, the United States Supreme Court announced a new rule of criminal procedure in Ramos v. Louisiana, holding that a state jury must be unanimous to convict a criminal defendant of a serious offense. The Louisiana Court found that this jurisprudential development subsequent to defendant’s knowing and voluntary plea did not render her plea involuntary or unknowing. Accordingly, the Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the district court’s ruling, which denied defendant’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea. View "Louisiana v. Clues-Alexander" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Spell was the pastor of a church in Central, Louisiana. On March 31, 2020, he was issued six misdemeanor citations for violating two executive orders issued by Louisiana Governor Edwards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Louisiana Supreme Court found certain provisions of those two executive orders, as applied to defendant, violated his fundamental right to exercise religion, did not survive strict scrutiny, and were thus unconstitutional. View "Louisiana v. Spell" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Cemetery Board (“LCB”) challenged a district court’s judgment finding Louisiana Administrative Code 46:XIII.1503 C to be unconstitutional. Whether the Louisiana Supreme Court had appellate jurisdiction was raised as an issue in an Answer to Appeal filed by appellees, Westlawn Cemeteries, L.L.C. and the Trustees of the Westlawn Memorial Park Perpetual Care Trust Fund. The Supreme Court determined it did not have appellate jurisdiction in this case because the LCB was not a “governing body” and did not exercise “legislative functions.” Its rules and regulations, therefore, were not “laws” for which appellate jurisdiction would lie with the Supreme Court. However, the Court exercised its supervisory jurisdiction to "avoid further delay, and is in the interest of judicial economy." The Court found that the trial court properly found LAC 46:XIII.1503 C to be unconstitutional. "As the only issue in this appeal is the constitutionality of the Rule, no purpose would be served by remanding this case to the appellate court before review would inevitably be sought in this Court." View "Westlawn Cemeteries, LLC v. Louisiana Cemetery Board" on Justia Law

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Jefferson Parish directly appealed a trial court’s judgment finding that Jefferson Parish ordinance, Section 36-320, et seq., titled, “School Bus Safety Enforcement Program for Detecting Violations of Overtaking and Passing School Buses” (“SBSEP”), was unconstitutional. After receiving notices of alleged violations of Section 36-320, et seq., of the Jefferson Parish Code of Ordinances, petitioners filed a class action Petition for Damages and Declaratory Judgment. They asserted multiple arguments against the SBSEP, including arguments based on violations of the Jefferson Parish Home Rule Charter and violations of Louisiana statutory law. Petitioners sought a judgment declaring Section 36-320, et seq. unconstitutional and the return of the fines they paid pursuant to the violations. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding Section 36-320, et seq., unconstitutional because it violated Article VI, Section 5(G) and Article VIII, Section 10(A) of the Louisiana Constitution. View "Mellor, et al. v. Parish of Jefferson" on Justia Law

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This summary judgment matter arose from a petition for declaratory judgment seeking a declaration (amongst other things) that defendant First Guaranty Bank (the “Bank”) applied an incorrect interest rate and thus miscalculated the principal owed on a Promissory Note executed by borrower-petitioner Leisure Recreation & Entertainment, Inc. (“Leisure”) in favor of the Bank in December 1991 (the “Note”). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted Leisure’s writ application to determine whether the court of appeal erred in applying the “voluntary payment doctrine” to hold that Leisure was estopped from recovering payments voluntarily made, regardless of whether owed. In addition, the Court reviewed whether the court of appeal erred in determining the Note presented an alternative obligation as to the Prime Rate interest structure for years 11 through 30 of its repayment, whether it erred in imposing its own interest rate structure during that period, and whether the Bank’s prescription arguments preclude Leisure’s recovery of any interest paid and not due between 2001 and 2013. Finding the “voluntary payment doctrine” contravened the Louisiana Civil Code, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal insofar as it: (1) reversed the portion of the district court’s judgment denying the motion for summary judgment filed by the Bank as to the voluntary payment affirmative defense; (2) dismissed Leisure’s claim for declaratory relief as to the interest it voluntary paid the Bank between 2001 and 2013; and (3) rendered judgment ordering the Bank to repay Leisure “any overcharge of interest in excess of the prime rate that Leisure paid on the [Note] since the filing of its suit on October 7, 2013, together with interest thereon from the date of judicial demand until paid.” Finding that the Note set forth an “alternative obligation,” the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal insofar as it: (1) reversed the district court decree that Leisure was entitled to select the Prime Rate structure pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1810; and (2) reversed the district court’s declaration that Leisure paid all indebtedness owed to the Bank on the Note as of June 28, 2015, and was owed return of all amounts paid thereafter. The case was remanded to the court of appeal for consideration of the Bank’s arguments on appeal that were pretermitted by the court of appeal opinion and were not in conflict with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Leisure Recreation & Entertainment, Inc. v. First Guaranty Bank" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Louisiana Supreme Court in Doe v. Mckesson, 2 F.4th 502 (5th Cir. 2021) (per curiam). The plaintiff in this personal injury case named as defendants the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) organization1 and DeRay Mckesson (alleged to be a leader and co- founder of BLM). The plaintiff alleges that he was a duly commissioned police officer for the City of Baton Rouge on July 9, 2016, when he was ordered to respond to a protest “staged and organized by” BLM and DeRay Mckesson, which was in response to the July 5, 2016 death of Alton Sterling, who was shot by a Baton Rouge police officer when Sterling resisted arrest. The issues raised by the Fifth Circuit were: (1) whether Louisiana law recognized a duty, under the facts alleged in the complaint, or otherwise, not to negligently precipitate the crime of a third party; (2) assuming Mckesson could otherwise be held liable for a breach of duty owed to Officer Doe, whether Louisiana’s Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine barred recovery under the facts alleged in the complaint. The Court answered the former in the affirmative and the latter in the negative. View "Doe v. McKesson et al." on Justia Law