Justia Constitutional Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
Louisiana in the interest of D.W.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the State’s application to review the court of appeal’s determination that the State failed to prove that 16-year-old D.W. was the person who entered a sheriff’s vehicle and stole firearms from inside it, and therefore that the evidence was insufficient to support the delinquency adjudication for burglary involving a firearm, La. R.S. 14:62, and theft of a firearm, La. R.S. 14:67.15. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court found the State presented sufficient evidence that D.W. was a principal, in accordance with La. R.S. 14:24, to these felony-grade delinquent acts regardless of whether he personally entered the vehicle and took the firearms that were inside it himself. Therefore, the Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstated the delinquency adjudication and dispositions imposed by the juvenile court, which were then affirmed. View "Louisiana in the interest of D.W." on Justia Law
The Cartesian Company, inc. v. Div. of Admin. Law Ethics Adj. Bd. Panel, et al.
The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review involved the constitutionality a part of the Louisiana Ethics Code, La. R.S. 42:1113(B). Specifically, the Court reviewed whether the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs-respondents, The Cartesian Company, Inc. (“Cartesian”) and Greg Gachassin (collectively “Plaintiffs”). The trial court ruled that the words “in any way interested in” contained in La. R.S. 42:1113(B) “are hereby struck down, and declared of no effect, as violating both the Federal and State Constitutions because these words . . . are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad . . . as interpreted and applied” to Plaintiffs. The trial court also denied the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants-respondents, Division of Administration Law Ethics Adjudicatory Board (Panel A) (“EAB”) and the Louisiana Board of Ethics (“BOE”)(collectively “BOE”). Defendants appealed, and the matter was transferred by the appellate court as a direct appeal to the Supreme Court pursuant to La. Const. Art. V, § 5(D). The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in finding the phrase “in any way interested in” facially unconstitutionally overbroad. Accordingly, it reversed this portion of the judgment. However, the Supreme Court found the trial court correctly determined the phrase was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Plaintiffs and unconstitutionally vague on its face as to all of its applications. As a result, the phrase “or be in any way interested in” was hereby struck from La. R.S. 42:1113(B). The remainder of the statute remained viable and could stand. Accordingly, this portion of the trial court’s judgment was affirmed, amended in part, and affirmed as amended. View "The Cartesian Company, inc. v. Div. of Admin. Law Ethics Adj. Bd. Panel, et al." on Justia Law
Mellor, et al. v. Jefferson Parish, et al.
Jefferson Parish School Board and Jefferson Parish Sheriff (collectively, “defendants”) challenged the constitutionality of a trial court judgment ordering the defendants to remit into the trial court’s registry $2,780,232.02. The disputed funds were collected through the enforcement of Jefferson Parish ordinance, Section 36- 320, et seq., titled “School Bus Safety Enforcement Program for Detecting Violations of Overtaking and Passing School Buses” (“SBSEP”). The Louisiana Supreme Court previously affirmed the trial court’s initial decision that found the SBSEP unconstitutional because it violated Article VI, Section 5 (G) and Article VII, Section 10 (A) of the Louisiana Constitution. The class action petitioners, William Mellor, et al., then moved for summary judgment seeking “the immediate return of their property in the possession of these two government entities... .” The trial court granted their summary judgment and ordered the defendants to remit the aforementioned funds into the registry of the court. Defendants sought an appeal and challenged the trial court’s authority to order them to remit the funds into the court’s registry. The court of appeal found that defendants improperly sought an appeal of an interlocutory judgment. The defendants’ later attempts to seek supervisory review of the trial court’s judgment and order were denied as untimely. The Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction to review the merits of the trial court’s order was the issue this case presented for review. The Supreme Court found that while it lacked appellate jurisdiction to review the merits of the trial court’s order, it did authority to exercise supervisory jurisdiction under Article V, Section 5 (A) of the Louisiana Constitution. "Even if the petitioners are entitled to a judgment in their favor, the trial court overstepped its authority in ordering defendants to remit funds into the court’s registry, as this unconstitutionally intrudes upon their delegated responsibility to appropriate funds, pursuant to Article XII, Section 10 of the Louisiana Constitution and Louisiana Revised Statute 13:5109 B (2)." The Court affirmed those lower court judgments properly before it. However, in exercising its plenary supervisory jurisdiction, the Supreme Court further found the trial court’s order to remit funds into its registry violated the aforementioned constitutional provisions. The Court vacated that order. View "Mellor, et al. v. Jefferson Parish, et al." on Justia Law
Louisiana v. Lee
In October 2003, the state charged defendant William Lee, Jr. with one count of second degree murder. In 2007, a unanimous jury found defendant guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. The conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. In October 2021, defendant and the District Attorney filed a “Joint Motion to Amend Conviction and Sentence Pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 930.10.” In the motion, the parties stipulated to certain facts relating to the cause of the victim’s death: they agreed that new evidence obtained in May 2020 would have bolstered defendant’s case at trial by supporting the defense theory that the victim’s fatal injuries were caused by her falling on her own accord. Based on this new evidence, the parties agreed that “a fair and just resolution” of the case would be to amend defendant’s conviction from second degree murder to manslaughter, and for the court to vacate the life without parole sentence and impose a sentence of 35 years imprisonment at hard labor. The district court granted the joint motion, vacated defendant’s second degree murder conviction and the previously-imposed life without parole sentence, accepted defendant’s guilty plea to manslaughter, and imposed the agreed-upon 35-year sentence with credit for time served. In March 2022, the Louisiana Attorney General filed a pleading entitled, “Motion and Incorporated Memorandum to Vacate Post-Conviction Plea Agreement as Unconstitutional.” The Attorney General argued that Article 930.10 of the Code of Criminal Procedure unconstitutionally permitted courts to grant clemency to criminal defendants, a power that was expressly and exclusively granted to the governor. To this the Louisiana Supreme Court concurred, and reversed the district court and reinstated defendant's second degree murder conviction. View "Louisiana v. Lee" on Justia Law
T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province, et al.
Defendants, the Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province, Inc. and Holy Cross College, Inc. (collectively “Holy Cross”), challenged the constitutionality of 2021 La. Acts 322, §2 (“Act 322”), an enactment of the Louisiana legislature that amended La. R.S. 9:2800.9 and revived prescribed child sex abuse claims for a limited three-year period (sometimes referred to as “revival provision”). Plaintiff T.S. directly appealed the trial court’s judgment sustaining Holy Cross’s exception of prescription. In sustaining the exception, the trial court found the matter could not be resolved on non-constitutional grounds and declared Act 322, §2 unconstitutional, reasoning that the legislature lacked authority to revive a prescribed claim. After reviewing the record, along with the pertinent legislation, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in finding Act 322 unconstitutional when this matter could be resolved on non-constitutional, statutory grounds. Nevertheless, the Court found the trial court was correct in granting the exception of prescription. View "T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province, et al." on Justia Law
Louisiana v. Shallerhorn
The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was a matter of first impression: whether a defendant who is charged with first degree murder can elect a bench trial when the state has filed a formal notice that it will not seek capital punishment. The question presented involved the interpretation of Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 780, specifically the meaning of the phrase “an offense other than one punishable by death.” In February 2021, defendant John Shallerhorn was arrested for several offenses, including on suspicion of first degree murder. The state filed notice that “for any charges for which the grand jury returns an indictment in [this] case, the State will elect to forego capital punishment.” Shallerhorn was ultimately indicted for first degree murder and armed robbery. Defendant filed a motion for a bench trial, seeking to waive his right to a trial by jury pursuant to the provisions of La. C.Cr.P. article 780. The state opposed this motion, and the trial court, agreeing with the state, denied it. The trial court noted that though the state was not currently pursuing the death penalty, “if something changes at the DA’s office and somehow death is back on the table,” then the defendant could not waive a jury and elect a bench trial. The Supreme Court held that after the state provides formal notice that it will not seek the death penalty, and thereby elects to prosecute the offense of first degree murder as a non-capital case, a defendant may waive a trial by jury and elect a bench trial. View "Louisiana v. Shallerhorn" on Justia Law
Kinnett v. Kinnett
The putative biological father sought to rebut, pursuant to La. C.C. art. 198, a presumption set forth in La. C.C. art. 185, despite having filed his avowal petition more than one year after the birth of the child and even though no “bad faith” was found on the part of the mother. After years of litigation on preliminary issues, the appellate court reviewed an earlier district court ruling, which found that La. C.C. art. 198 was not unconstitutional, and reversed the district court, concluding Article 198 was unconstitutional as applied. On review, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that under the facts presented here, that the putative biological father had no fundamental constitutional right to parent a child born to a mother, who was married to and living with another man at the time of the child’s conception and birth. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court, reinstated the district court judgment holding that La. C.C. art. 198 was constitutional, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Kinnett v. Kinnett" on Justia Law
Lousiana v. Alexander
Defendant Marshall Alexander, Jr. was found guilty as charged of the second degree murder of Scott Latiolais. On March 29, 2002, Latiolais’s body was found in a field in St. Martin Parish. He was killed by a shotgun wound to the back. It was the State’s theory, which was evidently accepted by the jury, that defendant and his cousin, Timothy Roberts, intended to rob the victim, who was then shot in the back when he tried to flee. The State’s own case predominantly established Roberts’s guilt while the evidence against defendant, cobbled together from inconsistent statements and testimony, was minimal. The court of appeal found the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant shot the victim or that defendant knew his cousin had intended to rob the victim before he shot him. To this, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, and affirmed the appellate court's decision which reversed defendant's conviction. View "Lousiana v. Alexander" on Justia Law
Louisiana v. Chandler
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the State's petition for review to determine whether the court of appeal erred in reversing the district court's denial of post-conviction relief. The court of appeal found trial counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms when a prospective juror was not challenged for cause for her employment with the district attorney. The court of appeal also found respondent suffered prejudice when that juror, initially an alternate, was then seated on the jury. The Supreme Court pretermitted the question of counsel’s deficient performance or error, finding legal error in the court of appeal’s prejudice determination under the Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). "Here, the record does not establish prejudice. The verdict is neither unreliable nor would it have likely been different absent the alleged error. The court of appeal ruling is reversed and the ruling of the district court denying respondent’s application for post-conviction relief is reinstated." View "Louisiana v. Chandler" on Justia Law
Louisiana v. Vaughn
The certiorari writ application in this case was granted by the Louisiana Supreme Court to address a purely legal issue: where a defendant’s convictions by a non-unanimous jury were final, but his sentences were still under review at the time Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. –––– (2020), was decided, is the defendant entitled to a new trial? The answer to this question was determined by whether the matter would be considered to be on “direct review” as contemplated by Louisiana v. Reddick, 351 So. 3d 273 (2022). The Louisiana Supreme Court found that only the direct review of the non-unanimous jury conviction entitled a defendant to a new trial. "Once that review is final, the defendant is not entitled to any further relief under Ramos, irrespective of whether his sentence or resentence is still on appeal." View "Louisiana v. Vaughn" on Justia Law