985 So.2d 709 (La. 2008), 2007-KA-2377, State v. Hatton

Docket Nº:2007-KA-2377.
Citation:985 So.2d 709, 2007-2377 La. 7/1/08
Party Name:STATE of Louisiana v. Ray HATTON.
Case Date:July 01, 2008
Court:Supreme Court of Louisiana

Page 709

985 So.2d 709 (La. 2008)

2007-2377 La. 7/1/08

STATE of Louisiana

v.

Ray HATTON.

No. 2007-KA-2377.

Supreme Court of Louisiana.

July 1, 2008

Page 710

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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James D. Caldwell, Attorney General, John F. DeRosier, District Attorney, Stephen Coppage Martin, Teri Russo Lacy, Assistant District Attorneys, for appellant.

The Law Firm of J. Rodney Baum, J. Rodney Baum, Baton Rouge, for appellee.

KIMBALL, J.

[2007-2377 La. 1] This matter is before us pursuant to this Court's appellate jurisdiction over cases in which a law or ordinance has been declared unconstitutional by the trial court. La. Const. art. V, § 5(D). The trial court granted defendant's Motion to Quash on the basis that La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(3) violates La. Const. art. I, § 22, “Access to Courts," and La. Const. art. I, § 13, “Rights of the Accused." For the reasons that follow, the trial court's ruling granting defendant's Motion to Quash on the basis that La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(3) is unconstitutional in violation of La. Const. art. I, § 22 and La. Const. art. I, § 13, was erroneous because those constitutional grounds were not properly before it. Accordingly, we reverse and vacate the trial court's ruling granting the defendant's Motion to Quash, and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The facts essential to our discussion are as follows. Defendant, Ray Hatton, Jr., was arrested on October 11, 2005, and charged by a Bill of Information filed on [2007-2377 La. 2] October 27, 2005, with two counts of “Computer-Aided Solicitation for Sexual Purposes" 1 in violation of La. R.S. 14:81.3.2The charges arose out of an undercover

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[2007-2377 La. 3] investigation initiated by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of the Louisiana Department of Justice, Attorney General's Office. An undercover agent assigned to the Task Force entered an online chat room disguised as a fourteen (14) year old female named “Kay Kay." Shortly after entering the chat room, “Kay Kay" was contacted by a person later identified as defendant. The internet conversation between defendant and “Kay Kay" quickly turned sexual in nature and the two discussed the possibility of meeting. Defendant was subsequently arrested at an attempted meeting.

On November 14, 2005, defendant appeared with counsel in the Fourteenth Judicial District Court, Lake Charles, Louisiana and waived the reading of the bill, tendered a plea of not guilty, and elected a trial by jury. After discovery and several [2007-2377 La. 4] continuances at the request of defendant, trial was scheduled for October 9, 2007.3 Prior to trial, on June 25, 2007, the defendant filed a Motion to Quash the Bill of

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Information 4 on the basis that it failed to charge an offense punishable under a valid statute.5 Specifically, defendant argued in his Motion to Quash that La. R.S. 14:81.36 violates the equal protection provisions set forth in La. Const. art. I, § 37 and infringes upon a criminal defendant's constitutional right to present a defense, contrary to the guarantees of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution 8 and [2007-2377 La. 5]Louisiana Constitution Article I, Section 16.9 The defendant's second argument, relating to his right to present a defense, was raised in the same document, his Motion to Quash, under the heading Memorandum in Support. 10

In response, on July 2, 2007, the State filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the defendant's Motion to Quash Based on Equal Protection Grounds, challenging the equal protection and right to present a defense grounds asserted by defendant. The State contended that defendant's argument,

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wherein defendant claimed the unavailability of the consent defense set forth in La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(1) infringes upon his right to present a defense, was without merit. Specifically, the State argued that fundamental rights include the right to vote, to have access to the courts, and to travel. According to the State, no part of La. R.S. 14:81.3 infringes upon the defendant's right of access to the courts or his ability to present a defense.11

On July 11, 2007, the trial court held a hearing on the defendant's Motion to Quash. At this hearing, the trial court heard the arguments of the parties relating to [2007-2377 La. 6] the equal protection and right to present a defense claims set forth by the defendant. The defendant asserted that La. R.S. 14:81.3 gives a defense to some offenders, but takes it away from others and, therefore, impedes a defendant's right to present a defense guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.12 The State countered the defendant's argument by raising issues relating to the defendant's access to courts.13 The trial court judge, however, stated that he would examine the matter and make a ruling the following week, on July 18, 2007.14

On July 18, 2007, with only the State being present at the hearing, the matter came on for ruling on the defendant's Motion to Quash. The defendant's equal protection claim was addressed, but the trial court issued no ruling on the Motion to Quash. Instead, the trial court ordered the matter re-fixed for July 30, 2007, and stated that the parties would be permitted to supplement their memorandums by July 25, 2007.

Following the July 18, 2007, hearing, the State filed, on July 23, 2007, a [2007-2377 La. 7] Second Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Quash Based upon Equal Protection Grounds, adopting by reference its previous memorandums and attachments thereto, and reiterated the legitimate state interests rationally related

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to La. R.S. 14:81.3, which it had set forth previously in its original opposition memorandum.

The defendant subsequently filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Quash on October 22, 2007.15 In addition to the aforementioned arguments presented in his original Motion to Quash, defendant raised not only the additional constitutional ground of violation of free speech under La. Const. art. I,16 but also overbreadth and vagueness of La. R.S. 14:81.3 under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Defendant claimed that La. R.S. 14:81.3 is unconstitutional on its face and as applied, and that no part of the statute can be severed to cure the constitutional defects. Additionally, defendant asserted that La. R.S. 14:81.3 is both overinclusive and underinclusive.

The trial court issued an oral ruling on the defendant's Motion to Quash on October 29, 2007.17 At the beginning of this hearing, the State asked the trial court [2007-2377 La. 8] to consider only the grounds raised in the defendant's Motion to Quash. Those issues were incorrectly identified by the trial court, the State, and the defendant as equal protection and access to the courts.18

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The trial court, however, stated that it would consider all of the constitutional issues before it:

And so, you know, like I said, when a person files a Motion to Quash and he alleged Constitutional grounds, he alleged some specific Constitutional grounds, it would just be a waste of the Court's time in order not to deal with all the issues because its going to invite another Motion to [2007-2377 La. 9] Suppress, more delays. Okay. I, however, think that the State has the right to supplement its memorandum on this latest allegation, the freedom of speech, even though, when I read your memos, I kind of got a pretty good appreciation of what your argument would be. And if you've got something new you will argue, because of the freedom of speech argument, then I'll give you time to supplement.[19]

At the October 29, 2007, hearing, the trial court granted the defendant's Motion to Quash on the basis that La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(3) is unconstitutional 20 because it violates the defendant's right of access to the courts protected by La. Const. art. I, § 22 and “probably" La. Const. art. I, § 13.21 The trial court's ruling, however, consisted of a rambling discussion of various constitutional grounds, in addition to those on which it based its ruling. The additional grounds included: equal protection, as set forth in La. Const. art. I, § 3 and U.S. Const. amend. XIV,22 freedom of speech [2007-2377 La. 10] under U.S. Const. amend. I, 23 freedom of expression provided in La. Const. art. I, § 7, 24 and rights of the accused set forth in La. Const. art. I, § 13.25

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Written reasons were not tendered, therefore, in an attempt to clarify the trial court's confusing ruling, this Court requested a per curiam. Although the per curiam supports the trial court's oral ruling declaring only La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(3) unconstitutional on the basis that it denies defendant access to courts in violation of La. Const. art. I, § 22, it further indicated reliance on grounds not discussed at the October 29, 2007, ruling on the Motion to Quash and not supported by the transcript. More specifically, the per curiam provided that the trial court found La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(3) violated La. Const. art. I, § 16, a constitutional ground not addressed by the trial court at the October 29, 2007, hearing.26

[2007-2377 La. 11] The defendant did not object to any part of the trial court's oral ruling, however the State objected and subsequently filed a Motion for Appeal on October 31, 2007, appealing the trial court's judgment directly to this court pursuant to La. Const. art. V, § 5(D).27 Specifically, the State appealed from the trial court's October 29, 2007, oral ruling which granted defendant's Motion to Quash counts one and two of the Bill of Information on the basis that La. R.S. 14:81.3(C)(3) is unconstitutional as enacted.

In its brief to this Court, the State argues La. R.S. 14:81.3 is constitutional in its entirety and does not infringe upon the defendant's access to courts guaranteed by La. Const...

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