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State v. Hamilton

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 5, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
EARNEST G. HAMILTON

         APPEAL FROM THE TENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF NATCHITOCHES, NO. C 20957 HONORABLE DESIREE DYESS, DISTRICT JUDGE

          BillyJoe Harrington District Attorney State of Louisiana Parish of Natchitoches COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Peggy J. Sullivan Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Earnest G. Hamilton

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, John E. Conery, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          D. KENT SAVOIE JUDGE

         Defendant Earnest Hamilton was indicted on December 19, 2013, for aggravated rape, a violation of La.R.S. 14:42. On October 13, 2015, Defendant filed a "Motion to Have Attorney Jason Methvene [sic] Fired." A hearing was held on October 16, 2015, following which the trial court denied the motion in open court. Trial commenced on January 25, 2016, and on January 26, 2016, the jury found Defendant guilty as charged. Defendant was sentenced on February 25, 2016, to life imprisonment without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

         Defendant has perfected a timely appeal, wherein he alleges two assignments of error: 1) The trial court erred in not conducting a sufficient inquiry into the allegations regarding a clear conflict which existed between Defendant and defense counsel and then replacing him; and 2) The trial court erred in failing to grant challenges for cause made by Defendant.

         For the following reasons, the Defendant's assignments of error are without merit. Defendant's conviction and sentence are affirmed.

         FACTS

         Defendant, whose date of birth is October 29, 1977, had sexual intercourse between the dates of July 1, 2013, and July 5, 2013, with B.H, whose date of birth is January 10, 2002.[1] The victim became pregnant and delivered a baby boy on March 20, 2014. At trial, B.H. testified that her uncle, Defendant, had sexual intercourse with her when she was eleven years of age. DNA samples were taken from Defendant, the victim, and the child, and they were submitted for analysis. The results showed that Defendant could not be excluded as the biological father. The paternity index "indicated that Earnest Hamilton was 418 billion times more likely to be the father" of the child than "another randomly selected male."

         ERRORS PATENT

         In accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are reviewed for errors patent on the face of the record. After a review of the record, we find no errors patent.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE

         In brief, Defendant asserts that the trial court failed to make a sufficient inquiry into his assertion that defense counsel should have been removed from his case. Defendant filed a pro se motion requesting the trial court have defense counsel, Mr. Methvin, replaced. In his motion to fire defense counsel, he alleged that when defense counsel came to see him in jail, defense counsel told him that his trial date was October 19, 2015; that he would be found guilty of aggravated rape; "[a]nd that the Assistant District Attorney Billy Jo Harrington [h]ad [t]old Mr. Melvine [sic] not to do [a]nything to help the Plaintiff[.]" Defendant asserted that defense counsel did no investigation of the case and filed none of the motions Defendant wanted him to file.

         At the hearing, the following conversation ensued between the trial court and Defendant:

THE COURT: Mr. Hamilton, you filed a motion to have Attorney Jason Methvin fired?
MR. HAMILTON: Yes ma'am.
THE COURT: On what basis sir?
MR. HAMILTON: I mean, ya'll [sic] should see this here. I mean he ain't, after two years, almost two years it [sic] coming straight to my trial.
THE COURT: Okay I don't really, I don't understand what you just said, how that effects [sic] this at all.
MR. HAMILTON: How it don't [sic] effect [sic] it?"
THE COURT: Well has Mr. Methvin given you all the discovery that's [sic] been given to him?
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah, what a week before we go to trial?
THE COURT: Well, when did he receive it? Do you have anything to defend it?
MR. HAMILTON: Ya'll [sic]do what ya'll [sic] want to do man.
THE COURT: No, Mr. Hamilton, come back here. Mr. Hamilton, come back here.
MR. HAMILTON: You can't make me talk to you.
THE COURT: You filed the motion sir.
MR. HAMILTON: Are you [sic] grant it or you not? I'm not going to no trial with no f_ _ king Jason Methvin.
THE COURT: Uh, he is held in contempt. Ten days in lock down. You're not gonna [sic] cuss in my courtroom.
MR. HAMILTON: Suck my d_ _k b_ _ _h.

         This concluded the hearing on the motion. The trial court denied the motion.

         Defendant abandoned any further presentation of evidence on his motion by stating, "Ya'll [sic] do what ya'll [sic] want to do man." He was uncooperative, disrespectful and eventually had to be escorted out of the courtroom. Furthermore, Defendant did not meet his burden of proof. He did not enter any evidence into the record to support his claim. In his pro se motion, Defendant did not state what further investigation defense counsel should have conducted or what defense counsel would have found had he investigated further. Nor did Defendant indicate what motions defense counsel should have filed. In brief to this court, there was no discussion as to what further investigation was necessary or what motions Mr. Methvin should have filed.

         In brief, Defendant raises the concern of ineffective assistance of counsel. He states:

In this case, it is clear Earnest and his appointed counsel had a communication problem. Once the attorney-client relationship has been damaged to the extent the client does not trust the attorney, it would be difficult for an attorney to provide effective assistance of counsel. In this case, it is clear Earnest was not going to be able to communicate with Trial Counsel based on his trepidations about the nature of the relationship and level of interest on the part of counsel. Thus, he should have been provided counsel with whom he could effectively communicate in order to ensure his constitutional right to effective counsel.

         In State v. Christien, 09-890, p. 7 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/3/10), 29 So.3d 696, 701, this court stated:

A claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is properly raised in an application for post-conviction relief because this allows the trial court to order a full evidentiary hearing on the matter. State v. Burkhalter, 428 So.2d 449 (La.1983). However, where the record contains sufficient evidence to decide the issue, and the issue is raised by an assignment of error on appeal, it may be considered by the appellate court. State v. Tapp, 08-1262 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/1/09), 8 So.3d 804; See also State v. James, 95-962 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/14/96), 670 So.2d 461.

         Defendant filed his motion with the trial court, it was heard and ruled upon, and he then appealed this issue before this court. Therefore, the claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is properly considered on appeal. The record shows that Defendant provided no evidence at the trial court due entirely to Defendant's actions in the courtroom. The trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion. This assignment is without merit.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER TWO

         Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it denied cause challenges for six jurors following voir dire, forcing Defendant to use all twelve peremptory challenges.

         In State v. Lewis, 12-1021, pp. 9-11 (La. 3/19/13), 112 So.3d 796, 801-02 (footnote omitted), the supreme court stated:

The peremptory challenge occupies an important role in the jury selection process. By enabling each side to exclude those jurors it perceives as harboring subtle biases with regard to the case which were not elicited on voir dire or which do not establish legal cause for a challenge, peremptory challenges are a means of " 'eliminat[ing] extremes of partiality on both sides, '. . .thereby 'assuring the selection of a qualified and unbiased jury.' " Holland v. Illinois, 493 U.S. 474, 484, 110 S.Ct. 803, 107 L.Ed.2d 905 (1990), quoting Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 219, 85 S.Ct. 824, 13 L.Ed.2d 759 (1965) and Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 91, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). While peremptory challenges are one means of assuring the selection of a qualified and unbiased jury, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that an erroneous ruling denying a peremptory challenge is not, as a matter of federal constitutional law, a structural error requiring automatic reversal of a defendant's conviction. Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148, 160-61, 129 S.Ct. 1446, 173 L.Ed.2d 320 (2009). Rather, state law determines the consequences when a peremptory challenge is erroneously denied. Id. at 161-62, 129 S.Ct. 1446. As the Court explained in Rivera, "[i]f a defendant is tried before a qualified jury composed of individuals not challengeable for cause, the loss of a peremptory challenge due to a state court's good-faith error is not a matter of federal constitutional concern . . . [but] a matter for the State to address under its own laws." Id.
In Louisiana, the peremptory challenge is protected by and preserved in the constitution. La. Const. art. I, § 17 ("The accused shall have a right to full voir dire examination of prospective jurors and to challenge jurors peremptorily. The number of challenges shall be fixed by law"). While the exercise of a peremptory challenge is provided through legislation, La.C.Cr.P. arts. 795, 799, and 799.1, it is not merely a statutory right. Thus, this court has long recognized that when a defendant is forced to utilize a peremptory challenge to correct a district court's error in denying a challenge for cause and thereafter exercises all available peremptory challenges on other prospective jurors, a substantial right of the defendant, guaranteed by the Louisiana constitution, is affected. State v. Monroe, 366 So.2d 1345, 1347 (La.1978). In such instances, prejudice is presumed. Id.; State v. Juniors, 2003-2425, p. 8 (La.6/29/05), 915 So.2d 291, 305.

         Louisiana jurisprudence holds that trial courts have wide discretion in determining whether to reject a juror for cause, and those determinations cannot be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. State v. Jones, 474 So.2d 919 (La.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1178, 106 S.Ct. 2906 (1986). A review of the record indicates that Defendant used all twelve of his peremptory challenges prior to the full complement of the jury. La.Code Crim.P. art. 799.1.

         In a third circuit case with a defendant of the same last name, State v. Hamilton, 12-204, pp. 4-5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/20/13), 127 So.3d 76, 79-80, writ denied, 13-2925 (La. 5/30/14), 140 So.3d 1173, this court discussed issues of a trial court's denial of challenges for cause, as follows:

A trial court is vested with broad discretion in ruling on challenges for cause, and its rulings will be reversed only when a review of the entire voir dire reveals the trial judge abused its discretion. . . .
"A challenge for cause should be granted, even when a prospective juror declares his ability to remain impartial, if the juror's responses as a whole reveal facts from which bias, prejudice or inability to render judgment according to law may be reasonably implied." However, a trial court does not abuse its discretion when it refuses to excuse a prospective juror on the ground he is not impartial where, after further inquiry or instruction, the potential juror has demonstrated a willingness and ability to decide the case impartially according to the law and evidence. Thus, to establish reversible error warranting reversal of a conviction and sentence, defendant must demonstrate "(1) erroneous denial of a challenge for cause; and (2) the use of all his peremptory challenges." In the instant case, it is undisputed that defense counsel exhausted his peremptory challenges, and, therefore, need only show that the trial court abused its discretion by denying a challenge for cause.
State v. Odenbaugh, 10-268, pp. 23-25 (La.12/6/11), 82 So.3d 215, 236-37, cert. denied, __U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 410, 184 L.Ed.2d 51 (2012) (citations omitted).

         According to La.Code Crim.P. art. 797, the State or Defendant may challenge a prospective 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;
(4) The juror will not accept the law as given to him by the court.

         In Odenbaugh, 82 So.3d at 238 (citations omitted), the supreme court further stated:

[W]hile cognizant of the broad discretion afforded a district court when ruling on cause challenges, this Court has cautioned that a prospective juror's responses cannot be considered in isolation and that a challenge should be granted, "even when a prospective juror declares his ability to remain impartial, if the juror's responses as a whole reveal facts from which bias, prejudice or inability to render judgment according to law may be reasonably [inferred]."

         In the current case, Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it denied cause challenges for prospective jurors Calab Chesser, Van Wiggins, Kathy Kohls, Lykeisha Marshall, Angela Perot, and Katie Carter.

         Calab Chesser:

         While the State accepted Mr. Chesser, defense counsel challenged him for cause, stating:

Uh, not only did he struggle with the presumption of innocence and production, uh, he was one of the ones that also testified about how he . . .scratch that. Okay. P[sic] expects for the defendant even after the prosecution, finishes his case to produce and/or testify one way or the other. And I believe that one point, Your Honor, he even stated that it would be. . .I believe, my fault, and that I did not prove that my client was innocent. Uh, so, I think that he's having a problem with the presumption of innocence and production, as well as the defendant's right not to self. . .to not incriminate himself. So, I challenge him for cause.

         In brief, Defendant points to a conversation between Mr. Chesser and defense counsel, as follows:

MR. METHVIN: Okay. And you believe that. . .do you believe that innocent people can be ...

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