Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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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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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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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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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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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