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State v. Daigle

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit

March 26, 2015


Page 981



Walter P. Reed, District Attorney, Covington, Louisiana and Kathryn W. Landry, Special Appeals Counsel, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Appellee, State of Louisiana.

Cynthia K. Meyer, New Orleans, Louisiana, for Defendant/Appellant Clifton Adam Daigle, Jr.

Clifton Adam Daigle, Jr., Pro se, Angola, Louisiana.



Page 982

[2014-0869 La.App. 1 Cir. 2] McDONALD, J.

Defendant, Clifton Adam Daigle, Jr., was charged by bill of information with possession of a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance (heroin), a violation of LSA-R.S. 40:966(C).[1] He pled not guilty and filed a motion to suppress physical evidence, which the trial court denied. Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty as charged. The trial court denied defendant's motions for new trial and post-verdict judgment of acquittal and sentenced him to imprisonment at hard labor for nine years.

The State filed a habitual offender bill of information seeking to have defendant adjudicated a habitual offender under LSA-R.S. 15:529.1(A)(3)(b).[2] Defendant filed a motion to quash the habitual offender bill of information. Following a hearing, the trial court found defendant to be a fifth-felony habitual offender and sentenced him to life imprisonment at hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence under LSA-R.S. 15:529.1(A)(4)(b). Defendant moved for reconsideration of the sentence, and the trial court denied that motion. He now appeals, alleging counseled assignments of error related to the sufficiency of the evidence presented at his trial, the trial court's ruling on his motion to suppress, the sufficiency of the evidence presented at his habitual offender hearing, and to his sentence; he also alleges pro se assignments of error relating to an alleged Brady[3] violation and to the State's closing

Page 983

arguments. For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction, habitual offender adjudication, and habitual offender sentence, and remand with instructions.


On May 27, 2013, Deputy Derrick Torregano of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office was patrolling near the area of Claiborne Hill in Covington, Louisiana. As Deputy [2014-0869 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] Torregano drove southbound on La. Hwy. 190 over the Claiborne Hill overpass, he observed a white Ford F-150 truck in front of him swerve and cross the center line of the roadway. Deputy Torregano activated his emergency lights and effected a traffic stop of the vehicle for illegal lane use.

Deputy Torregano directed the driver of the vehicle, who he identified at trial as defendant, to exit his vehicle and walk toward the patrol unit. Upon making contact with defendant, Deputy Torregano requested his identification. As defendant reached into his pocket to retrieve his driver's license, a syringe fell from his pocket to the ground. Deputy Torregano placed his foot on top of the syringe until backup units arrived. After backup officers arrived, Deputy Torregano performed a pat down search of defendant's person, at which time he recovered a spoon from the same pocket from which the syringe had fallen. Upon inspecting the spoon, Deputy Torregano observed that it had a layer of white residue on its top and an apparent burn mark on its bottom. Deputy Torregano then placed defendant under arrest. Tests performed on the samples taken from the spoon later identified the white residue as containing heroin.


In his second counseled assignment of error, addressed first, defendant argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction for possession of heroin. Defendant contends the State failed to prove that he knowingly and intentionally possessed heroin and the State's evidence identifying the residue as heroin was unreliable.

A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand as it violates due process. See U.S. Const, amend. XIV; LSA-Const. art. I, § 2. The standard of review for the sufficiency of the evidence to uphold a conviction is whether or not, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). See also LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 06-0207 (La. 11/29/06), 946 So.2d 654, 660; State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1308-09 (La. 1988). The Jackson standard of [2014-0869 La.App. 1 Cir. 4] review incorporated in LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 821(B) is an objective standard for testing the overall evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for reasonable doubt. When analyzing circumstantial evidence, LSA-R.S. 15:438 provides that the factfinder must be satisfied the overall evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. See State v. Patorno, 01-2585 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/21/02), 822 So.2d 141, 144.

To convict a defendant for possession of heroin under LSA-R.S. 40:966(C), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was in possession of the heroin and that he knowingly or intentionally possessed the heroin. In the instant case, defendant does not dispute that he possessed the substance which eventually tested positive as containing heroin. Rather, he argues that the State failed to prove that he possessed the spoon containing this substance for anything other than an innocuous purpose, thus making his

Page 984

possession unknowing and unintentional, and that the testing procedures used to identify the heroin were unreliable.

In the instant case, the evidence regarding defendant's knowing and intentional possession of the heroin is largely circumstantial. Deputy Torregano ultimately recovered the spoon from the same pocket from which the syringe had previously fallen. At trial, the jury heard St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office Deputy Jason Felts, who assisted Deputy Torregano at the time of the defendant's arrest, testify about how a spoon and syringe can be used in conjunction with a heat source and cotton ball to inject heroin intravenously. The spoon was displayed as evidence to the jury and described by Deputy Torregano as having white residue on its top and a burn mark on its bottom. Both he and Deputy Felts identified these markings as being characteristic of drug use, rather than typical of a spoon for everyday use.

Jessica Watkins, a forensic scientist with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office Crime Lab, testified unequivocally at trial that the white residue on the spoon contained heroin. On cross examination, Ms. Watkins stated that the gas chromatograph spectrometer used to conduct the chemical testing on the residue is used " almost daily, almost 24/7." She explained that precautions are taken to clean the machine as often as necessary, which is at least twice a year, but occasionally more often if maintenance needs to be done.

[2014-0869 La.App. 1 Cir. 5] Defendant did not testify at trial. Through closing argument, defense counsel advocated the theory that defendant mistakenly possessed a spoon that happened to contain trace amounts of heroin. Defense counsel cited the State's failure to prove that defendant was impaired at the time the traffic stop occurred, as well as the fact that Deputy ...

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