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State v. Hughes

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 30, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
BRIAN MICHAEL HUGHES

         APPEAL FROM THE THIRTY-FIFTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF GRANT, NO. 16-490 HONORABLE WARREN DANIEL WILLETT, DISTRICT JUDGE

          James P. Lemoine District Attorney, Thirty-Fifth Judicial District Jimmy D. White Assistant District Attorney, COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Paula C. Marx COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Brian Michael Hughes

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Sylvia R. Cooks and Shannon J. Gremillion, Judges.

          SYLVIA R. COOKS, JUDGE

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 20, 2016, Sergeant Robert Murphy of the Louisiana State Police was traveling southbound on Highway 167 when he noticed Defendant, Brian Michael Hughes, leaning against a vehicle in the teacher's parking lot of Grant Junior High School, near Dry Prong, Louisiana. Sergeant Murphy turned around and approached Defendant. It appeared to Sergeant Murphy that Defendant was under the influence of something, and a field investigation was conducted. Mr. Smith, the principal of the school, arrived on the scene and indicated he wanted Defendant, who did not have permission to be at the school, charged with criminal trespassing. Defendant was arrested, and during a search incident to the arrest, Grant Parish Sheriff's Officer Danny Hebert, located a clear, plastic baggy containing a hard, clear substance which appeared to be crystal methamphetamine in Defendant's pocket.

         The seized substance was weighed at the Grant Parish Sheriff's Office on scales at the station. The clear, plastic baggy, later identified in evidence as S-1, was determined to weigh 2.3 grams. In a later weighing of S-1 at the North Louisiana Crime Lab (hereafter Crime Lab), it was determined to weigh 1.73 grams. The substance was also tested by the Crime Lab and determined to be methamphetamine.

         Defendant was subsequently charged by bill of information with possession of methamphetamines, a violation of La.R.S. 40:967(C). He was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to five years at hard labor. Defendant is before this court seeking review of his conviction. For the following reasons, we find merit in Defendant's contention that the weight discrepancy of the substance measured by the Grant Parish Sheriff's Department (2.3 grams) and the weight recorded by the analyst at the Crime Lab (1.73 grams) provided reasonable doubt as to whether the lab received and analyzed the same evidence taken from Defendant's pocket. Thus, we reverse Defendant's conviction.

         ANALYSIS

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

         Defendant was convicted of possession of methamphetamine, which required the State to prove that he was in possession of the methamphetamine and he knowingly possessed it. In his lone assignment of error, Defendant contends the State presented insufficient evidence to prove him guilty of the charged offense, in that the weight discrepancy of the substance measured by the Grant Parish Sheriff's Department (2.3 grams) and the weight recorded by the analyst at the crime lab (1.73 grams) amounted to reasonable doubt that the lab received and analyzed the same evidence taken from Defendant's pocket and weighed at the Sheriff's office.

         The analysis for claims concerning sufficiency of the evidence is well settled:

When the issue of sufficiency of evidence is raised on appeal, the critical inquiry of the reviewing court is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, rehearing denied, 444 U.S. 890, 100 S.Ct. 195, 62 L.Ed.2d 126 (1979); State ex rel. Graffagnino v. King, 436 So.2d 559 (La.1983); State v. Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982); State v. Moody, 393 So.2d 1212 (La.1981). It is the role of the fact finder to weigh the respective credibility of the witnesses, and therefore, the appellate court should not second guess the credibility determinations of the triers of fact beyond the sufficiency evaluations under the Jackson standard of review. See State ex rel. Graffagnino, 436 So.2d 559 (citing State v. ...

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