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State v. Watts

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

June 28, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
ANTHONY M. WATTS

         APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 527-175, SECTION "A" Honorable Laurie A. White, Judge

          LEON A. CANNIZZARO, JR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ORLEANS PARISH DONNA ANDRIEU ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY J. TAYLOR GRAY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Counsel for the State

          SHERRY WATTERS LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT Counsel for the Defendant/Appellant

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay III, Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Rosemary Ledet

          JAMES F. MCKAY III, CHIEF JUDGE

         STATEMENT OF CASE

         On September 25, 2015, the defendant was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of La. R.S. 14:95.1. He was also charged with a misdemeanor, flight from an officer, in violation of La. R.S. 14:108.1.

         A hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress evidence was heard on August 3, 3016. The court denied the defendant's motion to suppress evidence and found no probable cause as to the felon with a firearm offense.[1]

         Trial commenced on September 20, 2016. The court recessed the trial after the testimony of Officer John Sananayke[2] was complete. On September 22, 2016, the defendant entered a guilty plea pursuant to State v. Crosby, 338 So.2d 584 (La. 1976), reserving his rights to challenge the trial court's ruling denying his motions to suppress the evidence and statements.

         The trial court sentenced the defendant to ten years imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence for the illegal possession of a fire arm by a convicted felon, and to six months in Orleans Parish Prison for the misdemeanor. The State immediately filed a multiple bill pursuant to La. R.S. 15: 529.1, alleging the defendant to be a third offender. The defendant admitted the allegations. The court then vacated the previously imposed sentence and sentenced the defendant to thirteen years and four months at hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. The sentence was ordered to be served concurrently with the misdemeanor. The court noted that the plea was accepted under State v. Crosby and that the defendant was preserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence and statements.

         STATEMENT OF FACT

         Officer John McIver testified at the motion hearing that on the afternoon of September 25, 2015, he and his partner, John Sananayke, were traveling on Willow Street in a fully marked "Explorer SUV" in an easterly direction. Officer McIver was seated in the passenger seat. As the officers passed Milan, a one-way street, they observed a black GMC SUV stopped at the intersection, facing the wrong direction. Officer McIver looked back to see the GMC turn against the direction they were traveling onto Willow. Realizing that the GMC was traveling the wrong direction on a one-way street, Officer Sananayke performed a U-turn as the officers observed the GMC turn onto General Pershing Street, also a one way street, in the wrong direction. The officers passed General Pershing and turned onto the next street and proceeded towards Claiborne Avenue in the same direction as the GMC.

         Once on Claiborne, the officers did not see the GMC and decided to turn back down General Pershing. As they passed the Popeyes at the corner of General Pershing and Claiborne, they observed the GMC in the rear of the parking lot.

         Officer Sananayke said, "There is the vehicle right there. It's in that parking lot." As soon as Officer Sananayke stopped the police vehicle, both brake lights on the GMC came on, and it backed out of the parking spot. The GMC drove onto Claiborne. Officer Sananayke backed up onto Claiborne and continued behind the GMC after it emerged from the lot. The officers activated their lights and siren; however the GMC "began speeding up and slamming on its brakes, speeding up and slamming on its brakes, swerving back and forth." From behind, Officer McIver could clearly see the driver of the GMC "messing with stuff underneath the seat or underneath the dashboard."

         The GMC continued to proceed in this manner for approximately two blocks and then abruptly pulled to the right-hand side of the road and almost came to a complete stop. The officers pulled in behind the GMC; however, the vehicle "abruptly took off " and "burst back into the traffic." The GMC proceeded for another block or block-and-a-half in this manner until the driver stopped and pulled over.

         Officer Sananayke and Officer McIver both approached the vehicle: Officer Sananayke on the driver's side, Officer McIver on the passenger side. Given the experience they had just had, Officer McIver asked the occupants to show their hands and instructed them to step out. Mr. Watts (the defendant) was the driver of the vehicle. There was a front seat passenger, Mr. Brown, and two children in the back.

         The men were handcuffed and Officer McIver advised them of their Miranda rights. [3] Officer McIver asked Mr. Watts what he was hiding when he was making "those movements." Mr. Watts stated that he was "trying to pick something up, and then the gas pedal got stuck or ...


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