OF CERTIORARI TO THE COUT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF
EAST BATON ROUGE
Rouge police officers found two juveniles, who appeared to
have passed out, at 1 a.m. in a truck that was parked at a
McDonald's restaurant. A strong odor of marijuana
emanated from the open windows. Fifteen-year-old C.T. was
seated in the front passenger seat with a pistol in his lap.
A search revealed a bag of marijuana in the driver's
possession as well as a burnt marijuana cigarette in the
center console. Crystal Etue had reported the truck stolen
several weeks earlier. She did not know either juvenile or
authorize them to use the truck.
was adjudicated delinquent for illegally carrying a weapon
while in possession of a controlled dangerous substance,
La.R.S. 14:95(E), and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle,
La.R.S. 14:68.4. The juvenile court committed him to the
custody of the Department of Public Safety & Corrections
until his twenty-first birthday. The court of appeal affirmed
the adjudication and commitment. State in the Interest of
C.T., 15-1864 (La.App. 1 Cir. 4/15/16), 195 So.3d 70.
While unanimously finding that there is sufficient evidence
to support the adjudication for illegal carrying, the panel
was split over the sufficiency of the evidence establishing
unauthorized use. The majority of the panel found the
evidence sufficient to prove C.T. intentionally used the
truck without the owner's permission. The majority found
it significant that "[b]y admitting to Officer Wilson
that they did not know whether the truck was stolen, the
juveniles implicitly admitted that they did not know who
owned the truck, . . . ." C.T., 15-1864, p. 6,
195 So.3d at 76. In contrast, the dissent found the evidence
insufficient to establish that C.T. had the requisite
criminal intent. C.T., 15-1864, p. 1, 195 So.3d at
78 (McClendon, J., dissenting) ("C.T. was not the
vehicle's driver and the state presented no evidence that
C.T. was connected to, or knew of, its theft. Moreover, the
vehicle did not show any apparent signs of having been
tampered with or any other indicia that it had been stolen.
Further, there was no evidence of the defendant fleeing the
scene nor did he make any incriminating statements as to the
unauthorized use of the vehicle.").
juvenile delinquency proceeding, the State's burden of
proof is the same as in a criminal proceeding against an
adult-to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the
delinquent act alleged in the petition. La.Ch.C. art. 883. To
prove a violation of R.S. 14:68.4, the State must show that
the juvenile intentionally took or used a motor vehicle
belonging to another without that person's consent.
Cf. State in the Interest of Batiste, 367 So.2d 784,
789 (La. 1979) ("[B]oth theft and unauthorized use of
movables require a misappropriation or taking by the
culprit."). Further, R.S. 14:68.4 must reasonably be
construed to require the existence of fraudulent intent.
State v. Bias, 400 So.2d 650, 652-53 (La. 1980)
("[W]e construe the present statute proscribing
unauthorized use of a movable as requiring a showing of mens
rea or criminal intent . . ."). Mere presence inside a
vehicle is insufficient. See, e.g., State in the Interest
of O.B., 559 So.2d 31, 33 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1990)
(evidence that defendant was merely a backseat passenger in a
stolen vehicle who saw keys in the ignition but not the
broken steering column and who fled after the driver crashed
following a chase initiated by the police conducting a
routine traffic stop did not support his conviction for
unauthorized use of the vehicle).
is some disagreement among the circuits as to whether a
perpetrator must have knowledge that the vehicle is stolen or
only that he does not have authorization to use it.
Compare State ex rel. J.J., 16-0193 (La.App. 1 Cir.
6/3/16), 196 So.3d 110, 114 (State "only required to
prove that the [juvenile] intentionally utilized the vehicle
without the permission of the vehicle's owner")
with O.B., 559 So.2d at33 ("the state provided
insufficient evidence to prove that [the juvenile] took or
used the vehicle with the knowledge that it was
stolen."); State ex rel. H.N., 97-0982 (La.App.
4 Cir. 7/8/98), 717 So.2d 666 (adjudications reversed based
on evidence that juvenile passengers were unaware vehicle was
stolen). The statute defining the offense, however, does not
require knowledge that the vehicle is stolen (or that it have
been stolen at all) as an element of the offense. Instead,
the statute defines the offense as follows:
"Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is the intentional
taking or use of a motor vehicle which belongs to another,
either without the other's consent, or by means of
fraudulent conduct, practices, or representations, but
without any intention to deprive the other of the motor
vehicle permanently." La.R.S. 14:68.4(A). Therefore, courts
have erred to the extent they have engrafted a requirement
onto the law that the state prove a defendant is aware a
vehicle is stolen.
instant case, the State presented evidence that C.T. was
passed out in the passenger seat of a stationary vehicle that
was later determined to have been stolen several weeks
earlier. The vehicle's owner had not given the juveniles,
whom she did not know, permission to use her vehicle. The
other juvenile was in the driver's seat and possessed the
keys. There was no damage to the doors, steering column, or
ignition. The vehicle reeked of marijuana, however, and C.T.
had a firearm on his lap. It was also 1 a.m. and C.T. was in
violation of a court order by being out of his home and in
violation of the local curfew ordinance.Both juveniles
denied knowing the vehicle was stolen but neither evinced any
knowledge as to who owned the vehicle either. This evidence
may be insufficient to prove C.T. knew the vehicle was stolen
but it sufficed to prove C.T. intentionally used a motor
vehicle which belonged to another without the other's
consent, which is all the language of the statute requires.
The totality of the circumstances here, when viewed in the
light most favorable to the State under the due process
standard of Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99
S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), sufficed to exclude every
reasonable hypothesis of innocence regarding C.T.'s
criminal intent. See generally R.S. 15:438; see
State v. Jacobs, 504 So.2d 817, 820 (La. 1987) (all
direct and circumstantial evidence must meet the
Jackson test). Finding no error in the court of
appeal's ruling, we affirm.
JOHNSON, Chief Justice, dissents for the reasons assigned by
GENOVESE, J., dissents and assigns reasons:
respectfully dissent from the majority opinion and would
reverse the adjudication of unauthorized use of a motor
vehicle. La.R.S. 14:68.4. C.T., a minor and guest passenger
in the vehicle, denied knowing that the truck was stolen. The
record reflects that there was no contrary evidence presented
to establish that C.T. knew or should have known that the
driver of the vehicle did not have the owner's permission
to use the vehicle. There was no physical damage to suggest
that it had been broken into, and the driver possessed keys
to the vehicle.
presence inside a vehicle is insufficient to prove
unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. A passenger in a vehicle
cannot be found guilty of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle
without proof that he had knowledge that the operator of that
vehicle was operating it without the consent or authority of
the owner. An essential element of the offense is proof of
mens rea or criminal intent. State v. Bias, 400
So.2d 650, 652-53 (La.1981).
prove a violation of La.R.S. 14:68.4, the State was required
to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that C.T.
intentionally took or used the vehicle belonging to
another without that person's consent. With no evidence
to suggest that C.T. knew or should have known that the use
of the vehicle was without the owner's permission, or
proof beyond a reasonable doubt that C.T.
intentionally took or used the vehicle belonging to
another without that person's consent, C.T.'s mere
presence in the passenger's seat of the vehicle is
insufficient to support the ...