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State v. Poree

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

November 29, 2017



          Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr. District Attorney Donna R. Andrieu, Chief of Appeals Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly Assistant District Attorney Donald G. Cassels, III Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR STATE OF LOUISIANA.

          Ruston Pritchard Rule XX Student Attorney Drew Lafontant Rule XX Student Attorney Katherine Mattes COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/RELATOR.

          Court composed of Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Tiffany G. Chase


         The defendant/relator, Ryan Poree, seeks supervisory review of the trial court's denial of his pro se application for post-conviction relief. After consideration of the oral and written arguments presented by the State and on behalf of the relator in light of the record before this court and the applicable law, we grant the relator's writ application, reverse the trial court judgment denying the relator's application for post-conviction relief, and remand the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Relevant Procedural History

         In January 2012, the relator was charged by indictment with two counts of second degree murder, one count of attempted second degree murder, and one count of obstruction of justice in violation of La. Rev. Stat. 14:30.1, 14:(27) 30.1, and 14:130.1, respectively. He pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity and, after a three day trial in February 2014, was found guilty as charged on all counts. In March 2014, the relator was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence on the second degree murder charges; forty-nine years at hard labor for attempted second degree murder; and forty years at hard labor for obstruction of justice. After an Anders[1] brief asking only for review of errors patent was filed by his appointed appellate counsel, this court affirmed the relator's conviction and sentence. State v. Poree, 2014-0691 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/18/15), 166 So.3d 372, [2]writ denied, 2015-0741 (La. 3/4/16), 188 So.3d 1056.

         In October 2016, the relator filed a timely[3] pro se application for post-conviction relief which was denied by the trial court in a judgment dated November 9, 2016. The relator sought supervisory review of that decision and, after review of the relator's writ application, this court found that the trial court only addressed the issue of whether defense counsel prevented the petitioner from testifying in its denial of the relator's application and was notably silent regarding the relator's claim that the trial court itself also prevented him from testifying. After finding the relator's other claims without merit, we denied the writ in part but granted it in part for the purpose of appointing the Tulane Law Clinic to represent the relator on this issue and placing the matter on the docket for oral argument.

         Applicable Law

         Pursuant to La. Code Crim. Proc. art. 930.3(1) post-conviction relief shall be granted if the conviction was obtained in violation of the state or federal constitutions.

         As recognized by both the federal and state constitution, a criminal defendant's right to testify is fundamental. Specifically, the state constitution provides in pertinent part: "[a]n accused is entitled to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him, to compel the attendance of witnesses, to present a defense, and to testify in his own behalf." La. Const. art. I § 16. Both state and federal jurisprudence recognize that "a criminal defendant's right to testify is fundamental and personal to the defendant" and the decision to "testify in one's own behalf" is "ultimately a decision for the accused to make." State v. Hampton, 00-0522, p. 4 (La. 3/22/02), 818 So.2d 720, 723, on reh'g in part (6/7/02) (citing Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 93 n. 1, (1977) (Burger, C.J., concurring) (emphasis in original). Therefore, "there is no rational justification for prohibiting the sworn testimony of the accused, who above all others may be in a position to meet the prosecution's case." Hampton, supra (quoting Ferguson v. Georgia, 365 U.S. 570, 582, (1961)).

         The U.S. Supreme Court has been "unequivocal" in holding that the U.S. Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee a defendant's right to testify. Hampton, supra (citing Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987)). Specifically, the opportunity to testify is a necessary corollary to the Fifth Amendment guarantee against compelled testimony because it is only logical that the reverse is true, i.e., "a criminal defendant cannot be compelled to remain silent by defense counsel." Hampton, 00-0522, p. 6, 818 So.2d at 724 (quoting U.S. v. Teague, 953 F.2d 1525, 1531 (11th Cir.1992) (en banc).) (emphasis in original). Likewise, the defendant's right to testify is implicit in the Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment because "logically included in the accused's right to call witnesses whose testimony is 'material and favorable to his defense' is a right to testify himself, should he decide it is in his favor to do so" because in many criminal cases "the most important witness for the defense . . . is the defendant himself. Hampton, 00-0522, p. 6, 818 So.2d at 724-25 (citing Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44, 52 (1961) (emphasis in original). Finally, the right to testify on one's own behalf is one of the rights that is essential to procedural due process and, thus, constitutionally required under the Fourteenth Amendment. Hampton, 00-0522, p. 7, 818 So.2d at 725.

         As reiterated by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Hampton, the denial of an accused's right to testify is not amenable to harmless-error analysis because the right " 'is either respected or denied; its deprivations cannot be harmless.'" Hampton, 00-522, p. 14, 818 So.2d at 729 (quoting State v. Dauzart, 99-3471 (La. 10/30/00), 769 So.2d 1206, 1210-11. "Therefore, . . . whenever a defendant is prevented from testifying, after unequivocally expressing his desire to do so, the defendant has been denied a fundamental right and suffers detrimental prejudice." Hampton, 00-522, p. 14, 818 So.2d at 729.


         In this case, the relator unequivocally expressed his desire to testify numerous times before closing arguments and once again after closing arguments. Specifically, the trial transcript in the record shows three assertions by the relator that he wanted to testify. First, the relator interrupted the rebuttal testimony of Dr. Blue stating: "I didn't understand, ya' heard me? Put me on that stand." (Emphasis added). Defense counsel immediately requested a short break to confer with the relator and then Dr. Blue's testimony resumed. However, the record transcript reveals that the relator asserted his desire to testify twice again after Dr. Blue finished his testimony:

MR. POREE: Ms. Pittman, I want up on that stand. Straight ...

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