State v. Bridges

Decision Date06 March 2015
Docket Number2014 KA 0777
PartiesSTATE OF LOUISIANA v. DWIGHT A. BRIDGES, JR.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana (US)

NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

On Appeal from the Twenty-Second Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany State of Louisiana

No. 531565"H"

Honorable Allison H. Penzato, Judge Presiding

Walter P. Reed

District Attorney

Covington, Louisiana

Counsel for Appellee

State of Louisiana

Kathryn W. Landry

Attorney for the State

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Sheila C. Myers

New Orleans, Louisiana

Counsel for Defendant/Appellant

Dwight A. Bridges, Jr.

BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

McCLENDON, J.

Defendant, Dwight A. Bridges, Jr., was charged by bill of information with possession of marijuana, third offense, a violation of Louisiana Revised Statutes section 40:966E(3).1 He pled not guilty and, following a jury trial, was found guilty as charged. He filed a motion for new trial, which was denied. The State filed a habitual offender bill of information, and defendant was adjudicated a second-felony habitual offender.2 He was sentenced to fifteen years at hard labor without the benefit of probation or suspension of sentence. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider sentence, which was denied. He now appeals, alleging six assignments of error. For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction, habitual offender adjudication, and sentence.

FACTS

On January 5, 2013, around 9:30 p.m., St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office Deputy Edward Stone was traveling westbound on Bayou Liberty Road in Slidell, Louisiana, with his partner, Deputy Mike Ripoll, who he was training. Deputy Stone observed a blue vehicle traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed. Using his radar, he "clocked" the vehicle's speed at sixty-three miles per hour. Because the posted speed limit was forty-five miles per hour, Deputy Stone turned his vehicle around and conducted a traffic stop. Both deputies approached the vehicle, with Deputy Ripoll approaching the driver's side, where the window was rolled down, and Deputy Stone approaching the passenger's side, where the window was up. Deputy Stone could smell an odor of marijuana. He asked the driver, later identified as defendant, to exit. When Deputy Stone requested permission to search the vehicle, defendant declined, so the deputy called a K-9 unit to the scene. While the deputies waited for the K-9 unit to arrive, Deputy Ripoll conducted a pat-down search of defendant as well as fieldsobriety tests. Deputy Ripoll did not locate any weapons or illegal contraband on defendant, and defendant passed the tests.

St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office Deputy Ronald Olivier arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and conducted a search with his K-9, Thor. Thor gave a narcotic odor response as soon as he approached the rolled-down driver's window. Deputy Olivier, unleashed Thor and allowed him to enter the vehicle, and Thor indicated that he detected narcotics in the passenger glove compartment, which was open. Deputy Olivier searched the glove compartment and located a "balled up" piece of paper containing suspected marijuana. He also located a "blunt." After the search, Deputy Olivier gave Deputy Stone the items he recovered. The contents of both tested positive for marijuana.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE

In his first assignment of error, defendant contends that the State exercised challenges to jurors based on race, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). Specifically, he objects to the State's challenges to three black female potential jurors.

The Supreme Court in Batson held that an equal protection violation occurs if a party exercises a peremptory challenge to exclude a prospective juror on the basis of a person's race. Batson, 476 U.S. at 89, 106 S.Ct. at 1719. See also LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 795C-E. If a defendant makes a prima facie showing of discriminatory strikes, the burden shifts to the State to offer racially neutral explanations for the challenged members. The neutral explanation must be one which is clear, reasonable, specific, legitimate, and related to the particular case at bar. If the race-neutral explanation is tendered, the district court must decide whether the defendant' has proven purposeful discrimination. A reviewing court owes the district court judge's evaluations of discriminatory intent great deference and should not reverse them unless they are clearly erroneous. State v. Elie, 05-1569 (La. 7/10/06), 936 So.2d 791, 795.

The Batson explanation does not need to be persuasive, and unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the explanation, the reason offered will bedeemed race-neutral. The ultimate burden of persuasion remains on the party raising the challenge to prove purposeful discrimination. Elie, 936 So.2d at 795-96. To establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination as required by Batson, a moving party need only produce "evidence sufficient to permit the trial judge to draw an inference that discrimination has occurred." Batson's admonition to consider all relevant circumstances in addressing the question of discriminatory intent requires close scrutiny of the challenged strikes when compared with the treatment of panel members who expressed similar views or shared similar circumstances in their backgrounds. The one relevant circumstance for a district court judge to consider is whether the State articulated "verifiable and legitimate" explanations for striking other minority jurors. The failure of one or more of the State's articulated reasons for striking a prospective juror does not compel a district court judge to find that the State's remaining articulated race-neutral reasons necessarily cloaked discriminatory intent. Id., 936 So.2d at 796.

In the instant case, defendant raised a Batson objection to the State's peremptory challenges to three black female prospective jurors—Mary White, Alice Cousin, and Shannon Doughty.

The State used its first peremptory challenge on potential juror, Mary White. During voir dire, White indicated that she was a receiving associate at Wal-Mart and was married with three children. She also indicated that she previously served on two juries.

After a jury of six was selected, the State exercised a backstrike on previously selected juror, Alice Cousin. During voir dire, Cousin stated that she was a retired teacher's aide, a widow, and that she had two adult children. She previously served on a jury for a rape trial that resulted in a guilty verdict. After the State exercised the backstrike, defendant objected, arguing that the State cut two of the three black potential jurors. The court asked the State to demonstrate race-neutral reasons for striking jurors White and Cousin.

According to the State, White previously served on two juries, and both resulted in verdicts in favor of the defense. Cousin was a retired teacher's aide, and the prosecutor explained that he "never had any luck with teacher's aides." He indicated that he also considered backstrikîng another teacher's assistant who was previously selected to serve. Defense counsel argued that although White served on two juries, one civil and one criminal, she did not vote on the criminal jury trial. The court responded, "But she did indicate that there was a verdict, I believe, in a medical malpractice case for the defendant."3 Defense counsel also pointed out that the State did not strike a Caucasian teacher's assistant that was in the jury pool. The State responded that it planned to backstrike that juror, Erin Worrel, but was unable to because of the interruption due to the Batson objection.4

The district court overruled the Batson challenge as to White, finding a sufficient explanation for the State's strike. As to Cousin, the court did not allow the State to exercise a backstrike, and she remained on the jury. Defense counsel made a partial objection.

The court allowed each party one strike for the alternate juror. The State challenged potential alternate juror Doughty. The defendant raised a second Batson objection, arguing that Doughty was one of the three black females. The State explained that Doughty indicated during voir dire that she felt that marijuana should be legalized and should not be a felony offense. The court found the State's explanation to be racially neutral and allowed the challenge on Doughty as an alternate juror. The defendant objected.

Once a prosecutor has offered a race-neutral explanation for the peremptory challenges and the district court has ruled on the ultimate question of intentional discrimination, the preliminary issue of whether the defendant had made a prima facie showing becomes moot. See Hernandez v. New York,500 U.S. 352, 359, 111 S.Ct. 1859, 1866, 114 L.Ed.2d 395 (1991). In the instant case, defendant failed to produce evidence sufficient to permit the district court to draw an inference that discrimination occurred. Further, the State articulated legitimate race-neutral explanations for striking the minority jurors at issue. Accordingly, we find no abuse of discretion by the district court in its denial of defendant's Batson challenges regarding the prospective jurors White and Doughty. Thus, this assignment of error is without merit.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER TWO

In his second assignment of error, defendant argues that the district court violated his right to present a defense. At trial, defendant requested that the jury be allowed to view defendant's vehicle and stand next to it with the passenger's-side window rolled up and the marijuana located in the same place it was on the night of the incident inside the glove compartment. Defendant argues that the district court's denial of his request violated his right to present a defense because this was the only "direct, dramatic and [definitive] proof he had that the testimony given by St. Tammany Parish Deputies called as State [witnesses] was incredible." Defendant contends that, contrary to his...

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