This Decision is not final until expiration of the fourteen day rehearing period.
ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA. NO. 13-2608, DIVISION " J" . HONORABLE STEPHEN C. GREFER, JUDGE PRESIDING.
PAUL D. CONNICK, JR., DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Twenty-Fourth Judicial District, Parish of Jefferson, TERRY M. BOUDREAUX, JULIET L. CLARK, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, Gretna, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.
BRUCE G. WHITTAKER, ATTORNEY AT LAW, New Orleans, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.
Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Jude G. Gravois, and Hans J. Liljeberg.
JUDE G. GRAVOIS, J.
[14-298 La.App. 5 Cir. 2] Defendant, Jacole Gatlin, has appealed his conviction following a jury trial of possession with intent to distribute marijuana in which the trial court allowed introduction of " other crimes" evidence regarding his prior conviction for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence. We further remand the matter for correction of an error patent as noted herein.
On June 3, 2013, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney filed a bill of information charging defendant with one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, a violation of La. R.S. 40:966(A). Defendant pled not guilty at his arraignment on June 19, 2013.
On July 31, 2013, pursuant to La. C.E. art. 404, the State filed a notice of intent to use evidence of similar crimes committed by defendant. The trial court granted the State's motion to introduce evidence of " other crimes" prior to the trial [14-298 La.App. 5 Cir. 3] on September 12, 2013. Defendant then proceeded to a jury trial on September 12-13, 2013.
At the conclusion of the trial, defendant was found guilty of possession with the intent to distribute marijuana. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied on September 18, 2013. Defendant was then sentenced to twenty years imprisonment at hard labor with credit for time served. The State thereafter filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging that defendant was a second felony offender, to which defendant stipulated. Defendant's original sentence was vacated,
and he was resentenced pursuant to La. R.S. 15:529.1 to twenty years imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, with credit for time served. Defendant timely filed a motion for an appeal, which was granted on September 18, 2013.
On May 9, 2013, Detective Nicki M. Garnier, Jr. of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office was in a marked police unit performing routine duties, including traffic stops, on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. According to his trial testimony, at approximately 10:00 a.m. that day, Detective Garnier was traveling south on Destrehan Avenue in Jefferson Parish behind a black Toyota Corolla, which had a brake light that was not illuminating. He activated his overhead lights and sirens and conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle. Once the vehicle pulled over, Detective Garnier approached the vehicle and observed a black male sitting in the driver's seat. Detective Garnier testified that defendant opened his door and had his feet out of the car and on the pavement facing outward toward him. While defendant was searching for his license, registration, and insurance, Detective Garnier smelled a strong odor of marijuana and also observed a " small green leafy [14-298 La.App. 5 Cir. 4] substance" in plain view on the floorboard of the driver's side of the vehicle. He then asked defendant if he was in possession of any illegal narcotics or weapons, to which defendant replied " No."
Detective Garnier then asked defendant to exit the vehicle and advised him of his Miranda  rights and that he was being detained for " possibly being in possession of marijuana." For " officer safety," defendant was placed in handcuffs and detained in the back of Detective Garnier's marked patrol unit. Meanwhile, Detective Kevin McGuffie arrived at the scene. After Detective Garnier told Detective McGuffie about the green leafy substance found on the floorboard, both officers conducted a search of the vehicle. As Detective Garnier retrieved a " small bud" of green, leafy substance off the floorboard, he observed an open, brown satchel on the passenger seat. Inside the satchel was " another large plastic bag containing a green, leafy substance," as well as one black scale, sandwich bags, and currency wrapped in two rubber bands. The contents of the satchel were later logged into evidence.
Detective Garnier then placed defendant under arrest for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He again advised defendant of his Miranda rights, and defendant indicated that he understood them. Detective Garnier then spoke with defendant. Detective Garnier testified that defendant claimed ownership of the satchel and the contents inside the satchel. He also told Detective Garnier that he " only sells narcotics when he's low on money." During this time, Detective McGuffie counted the currency and then left the scene. Detective Garnier proceeded to the Detective Bureau where a test confirmed that the substance found was marijuana. On cross-examination, Detective Garnier testified that he wrote defendant a citation for driving with a broken taillight.
[14-298 La.App. 5 Cir. 5] Deputy Kevin McGuffie, an employee of Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, testified that on May 9, 2013, as a matter of police protocol and for back-up purposes, he went to the scene where Detective Garnier made the traffic stop of defendant and
assisted him in the investigation. When he arrived on the scene, defendant had already been detained in the rear of a patrol car. After Detective Garnier informed him of the events, they approached the vehicle together, with Deputy McGuffie on the passenger side. During his approach, Deputy McGuffie observed the " strong, pungent odor of marijuana emanating from the interior of the vehicle." When he opened the passenger side door of the vehicle, Deputy McGuffie saw a brown satchel on the passenger's seat. According to Deputy McGuffie, " [i]nside of that satchel, in plain view, satchel was open, and there was a large, clear, plastic bag containing a green, vegetable matter. As well as a box of sandwich bags, and a black digital scale, and a large sum of United States currency." Deputy McGuffie identified State's Exhibits 1 and 2, as all contents of the satchel, including marijuana, that he saw on the traffic stop of May 9, 2013.
After the court gave limiting instructions regarding the following " other crimes" testimony, Anne Nini testified that she was the dean of students at John Ehret High School on February 13, [14-298 La.App. 5 Cir. 6] 2012. She and another dean searched defendant in her office, at which time defendant removed a bag of marijuana from his sweatshirt pocket. Ultimately, defendant removed 28 bags of marijuana from his ...