State v. Chapman

Decision Date08 September 1981
Docket NumberNo. 80-KA-2513,80-KA-2513
Citation410 So.2d 689
PartiesSTATE of Louisiana v. Vernon CHAPMAN.
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court

William J. Guste, Jr., Atty. Gen., Barbara Rutledge, Asst. Atty. Gen., Marion B. Farmer, Dist. Atty., William R. Alford, Margaret A. Coon, Abbott J. Reeves, Asst. Dist. Attys., for plaintiff-appellee.

Garic K. Barranger, Brady M. Fitzsimmons, Covington, for defendant-appellant.

WALLACE A. EDWARDS, Justice Ad Hoc. *

Vernon Chapman, convicted by an unanimous twelve person jury of aggravated rape and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence, appeals. We affirm.

The basic thrust of Chapman's appeal, which specifies thirty-three errors, is that Chapman did not commit the offense with which he was charged.

Appellant's numerous specifications of error, taken as a whole, attempt to show that 1) the trial court was prejudiced against Chapman, 2) the crime caused the jury to be racially prejudiced, and 3) grave doubts exist as to the guilt of defendant.

The record shows neither a prejudicial judge nor jury. Appellant got a fair trial. Under our system of justice, that is the best that can be provided. That the jury found appellant guilty is an irrevocable fact. This Court cannot re-try the case on a "no doubt" standard-it must review the jury's decision on a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.

A very close reading of the entire record convinces this Court that there was sufficient evidence upon which the jury could base its finding that the defendant was guilty of aggravated rape beyond a reasonable doubt.

FACTS

On June 3, 1979, at approximately 2:30 a. m., the victim, age 57, was awakened by a noise coming from the porch area of her Madisonville home. She got up and through the windows of her porch, saw the defendant trying to open a porch window. He held something made of shiny metal in his hand. She asked what he was doing and he said, "open the door, I'm stabbed." She said, "I'll call the police," and ran toward her phone to do so. At that point, the defendant crashed through the glass doors and pushed the victim down, cutting her leg on some of the glass. He pulled the victim into the dark bedroom and raped her. He stole money from her purse and then left the house. She followed him out, hid behind some vines, saw him run off and then heard a car start and drive off.

When the police arrived, the victim described her assailant as a light-skinned black man with a modified afro. She also described his height, weight, approximate age and shirt.

Leon Tyrney is the Chief of Police in Madisonville, which has a population of approximately 950. He testified that he knows most of the Madisonville residents and upon hearing the victim's description of her assailant, he immediately sent Sergeant Badon out to pick up the defendant for questioning because the defendant usually wore the type of hospital scrub shirt which the victim had described.

Chief Tyrney testified that when he arrived at the defendant's mobile home, he observed tire tracks in the dew on the ground which led to the defendant's automobile. The car had no dew on it and the motor was still hot. The defendant's wife answered the door and admitted the defendant had arrived home just a short time before. The defendant was lying in bed, without a shirt. The police chief observed a cut on his shoulder and on his side. Clothing on the floor had blood stains. The defendant was advised of his rights, although he was told he was not under arrest. Defendant was taken to the scene of the crime to be identified by the victim, but she had left to go to the hospital. Therefore, at approximately 4:00 a. m., the defendant was taken to the hospital where the victim was being treated. The defendant was brought before her with his hands in cuffs behind his back. The victim then immediately identified him as her assailant.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR NUMBERS 1, 2, 3 AND 4

These assignments of error urge that the trial judge erred in failing to excuse for cause certain prospective jurors. The defendant exhausted all of his peremptory challenges before the completion of the jury panel and is therefore entitled to raise this argument on appeal. State v. Monroe, 366 So.2d 1345 (La.1978).

La.C.Cr.P. Art. 797 reads in pertinent part:

"The state or the defendant may challenge a juror for cause on the ground that:

(2) The juror is not impartial, whatever the cause of his partiality. An opinion or impression as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant shall not of itself be sufficient ground of challenge to a juror, if he declares, and the court is satisfied, that he can render an impartial verdict according to the law and the evidence;

(3) The relationship, whether by blood, marriage, employment, friendship, or enmity between the juror and the defendant, the person injured by the offense, the district attorney, or defense counsel, is such that it is reasonable to conclude that it would influence the juror in arriving at a verdict."

NO. 1

Mr. Mickelborough, a prospective juror, admitted on voir dire examination that he had read the newspaper accounts of the case and had formed an opinion as to the defendant's guilt or innocence. He stated "there would be some difficulty" in his serving as an impartial juror. However, when the court questioned him further concerning his ability to decide the case based only upon the evidence presented in the courtroom, the juror stated that he would be able to do that. Under cross-examination by defense counsel, he firmly stated that if, at close of the evidence, he was not certain whether the defendant was in fact guilty, he would vote to acquit.

As set forth in State v. McIntyre, 381 So.2d 408, 410 (La.1980):

"This court has repeatedly held that the trial court is vested with broad discretion in ruling on challenges for cause and that the trial court's ruling will be reversed only when it appears, upon review of the voir dire as a whole, that the court's exercise of its discretion has been arbitrary or unreasonable, resulting in prejudice to the accused. State v. Dickinson, 370 So.2d 557 (La.1979); State v. Webb, 364 So.2d 984 (La.1978); State v. Drew, 360 So.2d 500 (La.1978). Furthermore, a charge of bias may be removed by the rehabilitation of a prospective juror. See State v. Webb, supra; C.Cr.P. 797."

In McIntyre, supra, three jurors were challenged on the basis of their exposure to the case via newspaper accounts. One of those jurors had formed an impression that the defendant was guilty; nevertheless, this Court decided that:

"From a review of the record we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the defendant's challenges for cause against these jurors. The circumstances do not indicate that the jurors could not be fair and impartial. The facts brought out by the defendant are not so strong as to cause us to overturn the trial court's exercise of its broad discretion in this area."

A similar result is indicated in the present case where Mr. Mickelborough was rehabilitated by the trial court.

This assignment of error lacks merit.

NO. 2

Following the prosecutor's discussion of the equal weight to be accorded the testimony of a police officer, Ms. Kimbrell, a prospective juror, stated that due to a prior bad experience with the district attorney's office and the court, she was not sure that she could be fair and impartial. She was immediately excused for cause by the trial judge. The defendant argues that the court's failure to make any attempt to rehabilitate this juror, who stated a bias against the state, contrasted sharply with the practice he employed when jurors stated a preconceived bias against the defendant.

The defendant accuses the trial court of "assisting the state" in selection of the jury, yet this is the only instance of such assistance to which the defendant refers. As the state argues, one instance does not establish a pattern of assistance.

La.C.Cr.P. Art. 786 allows the trial court discretion in controlling the scope of the voir dire examination although the jurisprudence has held that counsel must be afforded wide latitude in conducting the voir dire. State v. Hawkins, 376 So.2d 943 (La.1979).

In the present case, the defendant made no attempt to rehabilitate this juror and raised no contemporaneous objection to the court's dismissal of Ms. Kimbrell for cause. Compare, State v. Claiborne, 397 So.2d 486 (La.1981). The defense has the same right to rehabilitate a prospective juror as the state, if counsel chooses to exercise it. Under La.C.Cr.P. Art. 841, defendant's failure to object precludes review by this Court on appeal. State v. Alexander, 351 So.2d 505 (La.1977).

This assignment lacks merit.

NO. 3

The defendant objects to the trial court's failure to excuse prospective juror, Mrs. Holden, who stated that her brother-in-law was Marion Payne, one of the police officers who would testify at the trial. Upon further questioning by the court, she affirmed that she had not discussed the case with her brother-in-law and agreed that she would treat his testimony as she would the testimony of any other witness. With the trial court's denial of the cause challenge, Mrs. Holden was then selected for the jury, as counsel had already exhausted his peremptory challenges.

The defendant cites several cases recently decided by this Court in which a criminal juror's association with law enforcement duties was subjected to close scrutiny by the Court. State v. Madison, 345 So.2d 485 (La.1977); State v. Ballard, 337 So.2d 481 (La.1976). In the Madison case, however, the Court found that the juror's unequivocal denial that she would be influenced by the fact that her brother-in-law was a police officer was sufficient to support the trial judge's ruling that she could serve fairly and impartially. This Court has also held, however, that:

"A...

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