FROM THE THIRTY-THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
ALLEN, NO. CR-2015-2085 HONORABLE ERROL DAVID DESHOTELS, JR.,
Corley Marx Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR:
Defendant/Appellant - Christopher O. James
Herbert Todd Nesom District Attorney - 33rd
Judicial District Court Steven Sumbler Assistant District
Attorney - 33rd Judicial District Court
Plaintiff/Appellee - State of Louisiana
composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Marc T.
Amy, and Phyllis M. Keaty, Judges.
ULYSSES GENE THIBODEAUX CHIEF JUDGE
James was arrested after he removed a bag from his pocket
that contained five rocks of crack cocaine and threw it onto
the front driver's seat. He did so as the arresting
officer was conducting a pat-down subsequent to a traffic
stop. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent
to distribute and obstruction of justice. A jury found him
guilty of both charges. The trial judge sentenced him to
serve concurrent terms of ten years for the drug charge and
five years for obstruction of justice. Mr. James now appeals
the convictions. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the
conviction and sentence for obstruction of justice, but
reverse the possession of cocaine with intent to distribute
conviction and enter a judgment of guilty on the lesser
charge of possession of cocaine. We remand the matter for
resentencing on that conviction.
1. whether there was sufficient evidence to support a guilty
verdict of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute;
2. whether there is sufficient evidence to support a guilty
verdict of obstruction of justice;
3. whether the trial court deprived Mr. James of his right to
present a defense when it denied his motion for a continuance
to conduct additional discovery;
4. whether the trial court erred in denying Mr. James's
motion for a mistrial;
5. whether prospective jurors were struck because of their
race (Black), in violation of Batson v. Kentucky,
476 U.S. 79 (1986), resulting in an all-white jury; and
6. whether the obstruction of justice verdict form was
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
James was pulled over for driving without a valid
driver's license. Before the traffic stop, Officer
Brandon Johnson was alerted via a narcotics tip that Mr.
James was selling crack cocaine. Officer Johnson attested
that he previously cited Mr. James for operating a motor
vehicle without a valid driver's license. Officer Johnson
confirmed through the Louisiana traffic database that Mr.
James still did not have a valid license and a traffic stop
followed. Officer Johnson instructed Mr. James to get out of
the car and to place his hands on the top of the car.
the subsequent pat-down, Mr. James removed contents from his
pocket and threw them through the car's open window. The
contents included a small bag containing .77 grams of crack
cocaine (five rocks). Mr. James's passenger, Kennon
Richard, grabbed the bag and attempted to hide it between the
armrest and the passenger's seat. Mr. James and Mr.
Richard were both placed under arrest. The bag containing the
crack cocaine was in plain view and was confiscated by
Officer Johnson. Mr. James was charged by bill of information
with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and
obstruction of justice.
morning of trial, the trial court heard and denied Mr.
James's oral motion to continue the trial. During voir
dire, the State exercised peremptory challenges to strike six
minority persons from the jury, resulting in Mr. James being
tried by an all-white jury. The jury found Mr. James guilty
on both charges.
accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, we review all
appeals for errors patent on the face of the record. After
reviewing the record, we find one error patent.
that Mr. James was advised incorrectly at sentencing that he
had two years from that date to file an application for
post-conviction relief. However, La.Code Crim.P. art. 930.8
provides that a defendant has two years after the conviction
and sentence become final to seek post-conviction relief.
Thus, the trial court is directed to correctly inform Mr.
James of the provisions of La.Code Crim.P. art. 930.8 by
sending appropriate written notice to him within ten days of
the rendition of the opinion and to file written proof in the
record that he received the notice. State v. Baylor,
08-141 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/26/08), 998 So.2d 800, writ
denied, 09-275 (La. 11/20/09), 25 So.3d 795.
Whether there was sufficient evidence to support a guilty
verdict of possession of cocaine with intent to
James first argues that there is insufficient evidence to
support a guilty verdict of possession of cocaine with the
intent to distribute. He notes that: (1) the cocaine weighed
less than a gram; (2) the rocks were all in one bag; and (3)
he was arrested with cigarettes, a lighter, and only five
dollars, all of which indicate his intention to use but not
distribute cocaine. In doing so, Mr. James admits that he
possessed cocaine but that there is insufficient evidence to
prove his intent to distribute the cocaine.
State contends that his intention to distribute is inferred
from the circumstances surrounding his arrest. The State
posits that: (1) the cigarettes were not hand rolled, which
would ordinarily be used to smoke crack cocaine; (2) the
cocaine was packaged in a baggie, which indicated an intent
to distribute because crack users typically receive their
crack unbound; and (3) there was no evidence that Mr. James
was a cocaine user.
standard of review in a sufficiency of the evidence claim is
"whether, viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact
could have found proof beyond a reasonable doubt of each of
the essential elements of the crime charged." State
v. Leger, 05-11, p. 91 (La. 7/10/06), 936 So.2d 108,
170, cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1221, 127 S.Ct. 1279
(2007) (citing Jackso ...