448 So.2d 666 (La. 1984), 82-KK-2859, State v. Thompson

Docket Nº:82-KK-2859.
Citation:448 So.2d 666
Party Name:STATE of Louisiana v. Lillian THOMPSON.
Case Date:February 27, 1984
Court:Supreme Court of Louisiana
 
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Page 666

448 So.2d 666 (La. 1984)

STATE of Louisiana

v.

Lillian THOMPSON.

No. 82-KK-2859.

Supreme Court of Louisiana.

February 27, 1984

Page 667

Rehearing Denied March 23, 1984.

Page 668

William J. Guste, Jr., Atty. Gen., Barbara Rutledge, Asst. Atty. Gen., John Mamoulides, Dist. Atty., William C. Credo, III, Andrea M. Price, Asst. Dist. Attys., for relator.

Clifford E. Cardone, New Orleans, for respondents.

BLANCHE, Justice.

This is a search and seizure case. We granted the state's writ application to consider whether the trial judge properly suppressed evidence discovered by police officers during their investigation at a murder scene.

On May 18, 1982, several deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department arrived at defendant's home in response to a report by the defendant's daughter of a homicide. The deputies entered the house, made a cursory search and discovered defendant's husband dead of a gunshot wound in a bedroom and the defendant lying unconscious in another bedroom due to an apparent drug overdose. According to the defendant's daughter, the defendant had shot her husband, then ingested a quantity of pills in a suicide attempt, and then, changing her mind, called her daughter, informed her of the situation and requested help. The daughter then contacted the police. Upon their arrival, the daughter admitted them into the house and directed them to the rooms containing the defendant and the victim. The deputies immediately transported the then unconscious defendant to a hospital and secured the scene. Thirty-five minutes later two members of the homicide unit of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office arrived and conducted a follow-up investigation of the homicide and attempted suicide.

The homicide investigators entered the residence and commenced what they described at the motion to suppress hearing as a "general exploratory search for evidence of a crime." During their search, which lasted approximately two hours, the detectives examined each room of the house. In the room where the victim was found, the investigators discovered a .25 caliber pistol inside a chest of drawers. During their search of an adjacent bathroom, a torn up note was found in the wastepaper basket. Another letter, an alleged suicide letter, was discovered in the bedroom from which defendant had been removed. The investigating officer entered the room and noticed a red Christmas card lying on top of a chest of drawers. Considering a Christmas card lying in the open during the month of May to be suspicious, the officer opened the card and discovered four folded sheets of paper upon which the alleged suicide message was written.

Following the defendant's indictment for the second degree murder of her husband, she moved to suppress the evidence discovered by the homicide detectives. The investigating officers testified at the motion to suppress hearing that they had had time to secure a warrant prior to commencing their search, but did not. The detectives further testified that the deputies had searched for victims and suspects prior to their arrival and that theirs was a deliberate search for evidence. Upon hearing the evidence, the trial court initially denied defendant's pretrial motion. Subsequently, defendant requested a reconsideration by the trial court in light of several decisions by this court and by the United States Supreme Court. The trial court granted her motion for reconsideration and partially reversed its original decision by suppressing two pieces of evidence, the gun and the suicide letter found in the Christmas card. The Court of Appeal denied the state's application for a writ of review.

We granted the state's application for writs to determine two questions:

(1) Whether the trial court had the authority to reconsider its earlier denial of the motion to suppress; and, if so,

(2) Whether the trial court properly suppressed the evidence seized by the officers as fruits of an illegal search.

Page 669

  1. Initially, the state contends that the trial court erred when it reconsidered the original denial of the defendant's motion to suppress.

    Ordinarily, if the ruling on a motion to suppress is adverse to the defendant, he can reserve a bill of exceptions for use in a regular appeal of the case. See La.C.Cr.P. art. 703, Comment (f). However, nothing in the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits the action taken in the present case.

    In Louisiana, a ruling on a motion to suppress prior to trial is binding at the trial. La.C.Cr.P. art. 703 F. However, the implication of this limitation is that a ruling on a motion to suppress is not binding until trial begins.

    Out of a concern for the expeditious treatment of a motion to suppress and because of other fairness and policy considerations, we have limited the "not binding before trial" implication of the Code. In State v. Landry, 339 So.2d 8 (La.1976), we held that the State may not seek a rehearing of the grant of a motion to suppress in order to put on new evidence to support the constitutionality of a search. Landry suggests further that a defendant may not seek a rehearing to introduce new evidence once a trial court denies his motion to suppress.

    In the present case, however, the defendant did not seek to introduce additional evidence upon rehearing. Instead, he sought reargument and reconsideration of his motion based upon the evidence previously introduced. Thus, the concerns for time-consumption and the implications of possible unfairness addressed in Landry are not present in the instant case. The reconsideration by the trial judge of the applicable jurisprudence produced no delay in these proceedings. Although such reconsiderations should be sparingly made and limited to instances when the trial judge firmly believes that his prior decision was legally infirm, such reconsiderations do not hamper, but actually promote, judicial efficiency.

    Therefore, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in reconsidering, for reargument without additional evidence, its earlier denial of the defendant's motion to suppress.

  2. The second issue in this case is whether the warrantless search of the murder victim's residence was reasonable under the federal and state constitutional restrictions governing searches and seizures.

    In order to decide whether this evidence must be suppressed, we must examine the purpose behind the Fourth Amendment protection and the reasons behind its creation. From such an examination, we can determine whether, in light of these purposes and reasons, the search conducted by the police in this case was "unreasonable".

    The United States and Louisiana Constitutions expressly proscribe all "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV, XIV; La. Const. art. I, § 5. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution assures the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." The Amendment was primarily a reaction to the evils associated with the use of the general warrant in England and the writs of assistance in the Colonies, 1 and was intended to protect the "sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life" from searches under unchecked general authority. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 6 S.Ct. 524, 29 L.Ed. 746 (1886). Thus, the purpose of the Amendment was to protect a citizen against unbridled and unjustified governmental invasions of the citizen's privacy interests, specifically his own person, house, papers or effects.

    Page 670

    The United States Supreme Court has expressed time and time again that the mandate of the Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the many states through the Fourteenth Amendment, requires adherence to judicial process and "that searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment--subject only to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) (Footnotes omitted); see also Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978); United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242 (1974); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); Camera v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967)...

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