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State v. McGill

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 11, 2017


         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 321903 Honorable Brady D. O'Callaghan, Judge

          GEORGE D. ROSS Counsel for Appellant.

          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee.

          ERICA JEFFERSON Assistant District Attorney.

          Before WILLIAMS, LOLLEY and GARRETT, JJ.

          LOLLEY, J.

         This criminal appeal by the defendant, Stephen Michael McGill arises from the First Judicial District Court, Parish of Caddo, for the State of Louisiana. Following a jury trial, McGill was convicted of aggravated second degree battery, in violation of La. R.S. 14:34.7; subsequently, he was adjudicated a fourth-felony offender and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefits. The defendant now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction, but vacate the habitual offender adjudication and sentencing and remand for further proceedings.


         On March 8, 2014, an anonymous caller to 911 reported that Cynthia Darby was being beaten by McGill at a residence on Ranch Lane in Shreveport, Louisiana. The caller reported that McGill was armed with a knife. The police responded to the home and found Darby severely beaten with a stab wound to her left chest/shoulder area. McGill consented to a search of the residence and produced a knife out of his boot. He was taken into custody, and Darby was transported to a hospital for treatment. She identified McGill as her attacker. McGill was arrested and charged by bill of information, with aggravated second degree battery.

         After a sanity commission found McGill competent to proceed, a jury trial commenced with McGill representing himself, assisted by indigent defender appointed stand-by counsel. During the course of the trial, the trial court granted McGill's request that his stand-by counsel take over his representation, and for the remainder of the trial, McGill was represented by counsel. At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury found McGill guilty as charged. McGill's motion for new trial and motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal were denied.

         The state filed a habitual offender bill of information, and McGill was subsequently adjudicated a fourth-felony offender and sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment, without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. A motion to reconsider sentence was denied, and this appeal ensued. McGill's appellate counsel urges four assignments of error, and McGill has filed a pro se supplemental brief urging six additional errors.


         Sufficiency of the Evidence/Post Verdict Judgment of Acquittal

         On appeal, McGill argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of aggravated second degree battery, because the only evidence inculpating him was Darby's testimony. McGill states that there was no direct evidence that he had the requisite specific intent or medical records proving that Darby actually suffered a stab wound inflicted by a knife or the severity of any such wound. Additionally, McGill urges that because there was insufficient evidence to convict, the trial court erred in denying his motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal. We disagree.

         When issues are raised on appeal, both as to the sufficiency of evidence and as to one or more trial errors, the reviewing court should first determine the sufficiency of the evidence. State v. Lewis, 48, 373 (La.App. 2d Cir. 09/25/13), 125 So.3d 482.

         The standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the evidence claim is whether, after 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 proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); State v. Tate, 2001-1658 (La. 05/20/03), 851 So.2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905, 124 S.Ct. 1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004); State v. Carter, 42, 894 (La.App. 2d Cir. 01/9/08), 974 So.2d 181, writ denied, 2008-0499 (La. 11/14/08), 996 So.2d 1086. This standard, now legislatively embodied in La.C.Cr.P. art. 821, does not provide the appellate court with a vehicle to substitute its own appreciation of the evidence for that of the fact finder. State v. Pigford, 2005-0477 (La. 02/22/06), 922 So.2d 517; State v. Dotie, 43, 819 (La.App. 2d Cir. 01/14/09), 1 So.3d 833, writ denied, 2009-0310 (La. 11/06/09), 21 So.3d 297. The appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses or reweigh evidence. State v. Smith, 1994-3116 (La. 10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442. A reviewing court accords great deference to a jury's decision to accept or reject the testimony of a witness in whole or in part. State v. Eason, 43, 788 (La.App. 2d Cir. 02/25/09), 3 So.3d 685, writ denied, 2009-0725 (La. 12/11/09), 23 So.3d 913, cert. denied, 561 U.S. 1013, 130 S.Ct. 3472, 177 L.Ed.2d 1068 (2010).

         The Jackson standard is applicable in cases involving both direct and circumstantial evidence. An appellate court reviewing the sufficiency of evidence in such cases must resolve any conflict in the direct evidence by viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. When the direct evidence is thus viewed, the facts established by the direct evidence and inferred from the circumstances established by that evidence must be sufficient for a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was guilty of every essential element of the crime. State v. Sutton, 436 So.2d 471 (La. 1983); State v. Speed, 43, 786 (La.App. 2d Cir. 01/14/09), 2 So.3d 582, writ denied, 2009-0372 (La. 11/06/09), 21 So.3d 299.

         Where there is conflicting testimony about factual matters, the resolution of which depends upon a determination of the credibility of the witnesses, the matter is one of the weight of the evidence, not its sufficiency. State v. Allen, 36, 180 (La.App. 2d Cir. 09/18/02), 828 So.2d 622, writs denied, 2002-2595 (La. 03/28/03), 840 So.2d 566, 2002-2997 (La. 06/27/03), 847 So.2d 1255, cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1185, 124 S.Ct. 1404, 158 L.Ed.2d 90 (2004). In the absence of internal contradiction or irreconcilable conflict with physical evidence, one witness's testimony, if believed by the trier of fact, is sufficient support for a requisite factual conclusion. State v. Gullette, 43, 032 (La.App. 2d Cir. 02/13/08), 975 So.2d 753. The trier of fact is charged to make a credibility evaluation and may, within the bounds of rationality, accept or reject the testimony of any witness; the reviewing court may impinge on that discretion only to the extent necessary to guarantee the fundamental due process of law. State v. Sosa, 2005-0213 (La. 01/19/06), 921 So.2d 94.

         Louisiana R.S. 14:34.7 defines aggravated second degree battery and states in pertinent part:

A. Aggravated second degree battery is a battery committed with a dangerous weapon when the offender intentionally inflicts serious bodily injury.
B. For purposes of this Section, the following words shall have the following meanings:
* * *
(3) "Serious bodily injury" means bodily injury which involves unconsciousness, extreme physical pain or protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty, or a substantial risk of death.

         The determination of whether the requisite intent is present in a criminal case is for the trier of fact. State v. Fields, 42, 761 (La.App. 2d Cir. 01/09/08), 973 So.2d 973, writ denied, 2008-0469 (La. 09/26/08), 992 So.2d 983. Specific criminal intent is that state of mind which exists when circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act. La. R.S. 14:10(1). Specific intent need not be proved as a fact; it may be inferred from the circumstances of the transaction and the defendant's actions. State v. Bishop, 2001-2548 (La. 01/14/03), 835 So.2d 434.

         The testimony of a victim alone is sufficient to convict a defendant. State v. Drake, 46, 232 (La.App. 2d Cir. 06/22/11), 71 So.3d 452. Such testimony alone is sufficient even where the state does not introduce medical, scientific, or physical evidence to prove the commission of the offense by the defendant. Id.

         A post-verdict motion of acquittal shall be granted only if the trial court finds that the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the state, does not reasonably permit a finding of guilty. La.C.Cr.P. art. 821(B).

         Here, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to find McGill guilty of aggravated second degree battery. McGill's conviction was based ...

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