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State v. Toups

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

July 6, 2017



          Keith A. Stutes District Attorney Michele S. Billeaud Assistant District Attorney Counsel for Appellee: State of Louisiana

          Edward K. Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project Counsel for Defendant/Appellant: Kyle James Toups

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, Phyllis M. Keaty, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.


         Defendant, Kyle James Toups, was indicted for negligent homicide, a violation of La.R.S. 14:32. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty as charged. Defendant was sentenced on July 15, 2016, to two years imprisonment at hard labor, with credit for time served, and ordered to pay restitution to the victim's family in the amount of six thousand dollars. Defendant filed a Motion to Reconsider Sentence which was denied without a hearing.

         Defendant has perfected a timely appeal wherein he claims that the State did not negate his self-defense claim, thereby failing to prove negligent homicide beyond a reasonable doubt, and that his sentence is excessive. For the following reasons, we affirm Defendant's conviction and sentence.


         After an evening of drinking in downtown Lafayette, Louisiana, Defendant; his brother, Travis Toups (Travis); and Jacob Landry encountered the victim, Luke Michael Darby, on the street just before 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 14, 2012. Travis and the victim bumped into each other and briefly argued before the victim punched Travis in the face. Defendant then took a knife from his pocket and swung toward the victim's chest. Thereafter, the victim and Defendant fled the scene. On Monday morning, the victim was discovered dead outside a nearby business. An autopsy revealed his cause of death as a single stab wound to the heart.


         Errors Patent

         In accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are reviewed by this court for errors patent on the face of the record. After review, we have found one error patent. Defendant was advised that he had "two (2) years within which to file for post-conviction relief." Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 930.8 (emphasis added) provides that a defendant has "two years after the conviction and sentence become final" to seek post-conviction relief. Because the advisement given to him was insufficient, we direct the trial court to inform Defendant of the provisions of La.Code Crim.P. art. 930.8 by sending written notice to him within ten days of the rendition of this opinion and to file written proof in the record that Defendant received the notice. See State v. Roe, 05-116 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/1/05), 903 So.2d 1265, writ denied, 05-1762 (La. 2/10/06), 924 So.2d 163.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his first assigned error on appeal, Defendant asserts that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction for negligent homicide. At trial, Defendant admitted that he stabbed the victim, but he claimed that the killing was justified because he was acting in defense of his brother.

         Negligent homicide is defined as "[t]he killing of a human being by criminal negligence." La.R.S. 14:32(A)(1). Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:12 states that: "Criminal negligence exists when, although neither specific nor general criminal intent is present, there is such disregard of the interest of others that the offender's conduct amounts to a gross deviation below the standard of care expected to be maintained by a reasonably careful man under like circumstances." A homicide is justifiable "[w]hen committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger." La.R.S. 14:20(A)(1). In addition, La.R.S. 14:22 provides that "[i]t is justifiable to use force or violence or to kill in the defense of another person when it is reasonably apparent that the person attacked could have justifiably used such means himself, and when it is reasonably believed that such intervention is necessary to protect the other person." When self-defense or defense of another is claimed as a justification for the homicide, the defendant does not bear the burden of proof on that issue; instead, the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense or in the defense of another. See State v. Prudhomme, 02-511, (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/30/02), 829 So.2d 1166, writ denied, 02-3230 (La. 10/10/03), 855 So.2d 324; State v. Addison, 97-1186 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/6/98), 717 So.2d 648, writ denied, 98-938 (La. 9/4/98), 723 So.2d 955.

         In State v. Alexander, 04-788, pp. 1-2 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/17/04), 888 So.2d 401, 402 (alteration added), this court stated:

When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, appellate courts are controlled by the standard enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), and must determine "whether the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient to convince a rational trier of fact that all of the elements of the crime had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676, 678 (La. 1984). . . . Therefore, we must determine whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not act in self-defense.

         Furthermore, on questions of the sufficiency of the evidence, the appellate court's function is not to assess the credibility of witnesses or reweigh the evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116 (La. 10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442.

         The pertinent evidence presented at the trial of this matter is outlined below. Jared Istre, an officer in the Crimes Against Persons section of the Lafayette Police Department, was the first witness called by the State. Officer Istre testified that on the morning of October 15, 2012, he received a call to investigate a body discovered in the bushes outside an office on Polk Street. Officer Istre stated that the person who called the police thought the man was sleeping, but upon his arrival at the scene, he realized that the man was dead. According to Officer Istre, it became a homicide investigation after the coroner arrived and lifted the victim's shirt to reveal a single stab wound to his chest. A driver's license found in the victim's wallet identified him as Luke Michael Darby. Police officers then began canvassing the area and were able to follow a blood trail to a parking garage on the corner of Vermilion and Polk Streets. Officer Istre learned that a stabbing had occurred nearby on the corner of Jefferson and Vermilion Streets just prior to the altercation at issue in this appeal and that at least five police officers had responded to that incident. Officer Istre was able to verify that all of the suspects and victims of that incident were accounted for, which ruled out the possibility that Mr. Darby was injured in that first stabbing. During the police's search of the area in conjunction with this incident, an attendant for the parking garage on Vermilion Street informed another police officer that a knife had been found in the garage. The knife was collected and swabbed for DNA analysis.

         According to Officer Istre, a tip was called into the police department indicating that Mr. Landry was a witness to the victim's stabbing. Mr. Landry was brought in for an interview during which Officer Istre learned that Defendant, a co-worker of Mr. Landry, had stabbed the victim. Thereafter, Mr. Landry and Officer Istre returned to the crime scene where Mr. Landry was videotaped as he described the events leading up to the victim's stabbing. Mr. Landry pointed out where Defendant tossed the knife after the victim was stabbed, which location was consistent with where the parking garage attendant said the knife given to the police was found.

         An arrest warrant was issued for Defendant, and he was taken into custody in Texas, where he was working. Officer Istre traveled to Texas on October 17, 2012, having Defendant sign an advice of rights form before questioning him about the stabbing. Officer Istre testified that initially Defendant denied being downtown on the night of the stabbing.[1] However, after Officer Istre suggested to Defendant that perhaps he stabbed the victim in self-defense of his brother, Defendant began to cry and nodded his head in agreement when questioned about the stabbing. Eventually, Defendant told Officer Istre that as he, Travis, and Mr. Landry were passing the parking garage, the victim walked out and bumped shoulders with Travis. The victim then told Travis, "I'm going to fucking kill you, " and punched him in the face. Defendant stated that he pulled out his knife and swung at the victim's chest. Although he believed he cut the victim, Defendant did not think he hurt the victim "that bad" because the victim ran away toward Polk Street. Defendant told Officer Istre that he then ran toward where his car was parked across the street in front of Parc San Souci, tossing his knife into the parking garage as he passed it. Defendant stated that he later asked Mr. Landry to see if he could retrieve the knife. Although Defendant acknowledged that he saw some officers nearby in connection with the earlier incident, he did not tell them about what had just occurred nor did he call the police to report that he had stabbed someone in self-defense after that person attacked his brother. Officer Istre testified that Defendant said he never saw a weapon on the victim. A videotape of Defendant's one-hour-and-eight-minute interview was played to the jury.[2]

         On direct examination, Officer Istre relayed that when he interviewed Travis three days after the stabbing, he saw no observable injuries to Travis' face. He admitted on cross-examination, however, that Travis told him that his lip was cut where the victim had punched him. Officer Istre was questioned about a report he prepared wherein he noted that according to the information on their driver's licenses, Defendant, Travis, and the victim were all about the same height, approximately 5'6" to 5'7" tall, and they all weighed between 140 and 165 pounds.

         During his investigation, Officer Istre secured video from a nightclub across the street from the parking garage which showed a person believed to be the victim, who appeared to be injured, stumbling from the parking garage, and heading toward the office building where he was later found. That video was played to the jury. According to Officer Istre, he reviewed video taken by a security camera on the corner of Jefferson and Vermilion Streets, which appeared to show the victim yelling at the crowd during the incident that the police responded to before he was stabbed. That video was not ...

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