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State v. Serigne

Supreme Court of Louisiana

December 6, 2017



          PER CURIAM

         In 2009, 39-year-old D.A. accused her cousins William and Lionel Sergine of sexually abusing her when she was a child. Other family members, B.M. and M.S., also came forward to accuse William Serigne of sexually abusing them. Because of these accusations, Lionel was indicted for the aggravated rape of D.A. committed before 1981. William was separately indicted for the aggravated rape of D.A. based on an allegation of "oral sexual intercourse" committed in or after 1981, sexual battery of B.M., and aggravated incest of his daughter, M.S.

         After the trial court denied the state's motion to try the defendants together, the state convened a second grand jury and obtained a new indictment. Lionel was indicted for the aggravated rape of D.A., committed between the years of 1976 and 1983, in which William was alleged to have jointly participated. William was indicted for two counts of the aggravated rape of D.A., committed between the years of 1981 and 1983, in which Lionel was alleged to have jointly participated in one count. William was also indicted for the sexual battery of B.M. and aggravated incest of M.S. The co-defendants' motions to sever their trials were denied and the matter proceeded to a bench trial.

         After the victim testified, the co-defendants re-urged their motions to sever, and moved for a mistrial, on the basis that the victim's testimony did not support the allegation that the co-defendants jointly participated in raping her. The co-defendants also asked the trial court to perform an in camera review of the victim's grand jury testimony. The trial court denied the motions and declined to review the grand jury testimony.

         The trial court found Lionel guilty as charged of aggravated rape and William guilty of forcible rape, not guilty of a second count of aggravated rape, and guilty of sexual battery and aggravated incest. The court sentenced Lionel to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, and sentenced William to a total of 40 years imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

         The court of appeal panel vacated the convictions and sentences. State v. Serigne, 14-0379 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/2/16), 193 So.3d 297. The court of appeal first noted that Lionel was indicted for an aggravated rape alleged to have occurred between 1976 and 1983, which span included a time when La.R.S. 14:42 provided a penalty of death for aggravated rape.[1] Citing, inter alia, State v. Holmes, 263 La. 685, 269 So.2d 207 (1972), the court found as an error patent that, because Lionel's offense was classified as capital during at least part of the time alleged in the indictment, the procedural safeguards for capital trials applied and therefore a unanimous 12-person jury was necessary. Because Lionel was found guilty in a bench trial rather than by a unanimous 12-person jury, the court of appeal vacated his conviction and sentence. Because the court of appeal vacated Lionel's conviction and sentence in errors patent review, it did not consider his four assignments of error.

         Regarding William, the court of appeal first found the evidence sufficient to support the convictions before then finding that his trial was misjoined to Lionel's. The court noted that no evidence was presented at trial in support of the allegation that Lionel and William jointly participated in a rape, which allegation was the justification for trying them together. After hearing oral argument, the court of appeal obtained the grand jury transcript and found there was also no evidence presented to the grand jury that would support the state's allegation of joint participation in a rape.[2] The court of appeal then found that the state withheld the grand jury transcript from the codefendants in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 153-54, 92 S.Ct. 763, 31 L.Ed.2d 104 (1972), because it contained evidence William did not rape D.A. and William and Lionel did not jointly rape D.A.[3] Therefore, the court of appeal ordered that William receive a new trial and pretermitted consideration of all remaining assignments of error.

         The court of appeal erred in applying State v. Holmes to find that Lionel was indicted for an offense classified as capital and therefore unable to waive a jury trial. In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972), the Supreme Court held in a single-paragraph per curiam that the manner in which the death penalty was imposed and carried out in Georgia and Texas constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Five justices concurred individually and at length in the judgment, disagreeing in many aspects (such as their understanding of the history and meaning of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause), but four justices appeared to agree in one regard: statutory schemes that give unbridled discretion to the jury to determine if the death penalty will be applied are so arbitrary as to violate the Eighth Amendment. See Furman, 408 U.S. at 253, 92 S.Ct. at 2734 (Douglas, J., concurring) ("[W]e deal with a system of law and of justice that leaves to the uncontrolled discretion of judges or juries the determination whether defendants committing these crimes should die or be imprisoned. Under these laws no standards govern the selection of the penalty. People live or die, dependent on the whim of one man or of 12."); id., 408 U.S. at 294-95, 92 S.Ct. at 2754-55 (Brennan, J., concurring) ("[J]uries . . . make the decision whether to impose a death sentence wholly unguided by standards governing that decision"); id., 408 U.S. at 310, 92 S.Ct. at 2763 (Stewart, J., concurring) ("I simply conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed."); id., 408 U.S. at 314, 92 S.Ct. at 2764-65 (White, J., concurring) ("[The] recurring practice of delegating sentencing authority to the jury and the fact that a jury, in its own discretion and without violating its trust or any statutory policy, may refuse to impose the death penalty no matter what the circumstances of the crime [violates the Eighth Amendment]").

         In cases that followed Furman, this court grappled with the implications of a constitutionally unenforceable death penalty that had not yet been repealed or replaced by the legislature. For example, in State v. Flood, 263 La. 700, 269 So.2d 212 (1972), the court found that murder remained classified as a capital offense for purpose of determining whether an accused is entitled to bail. The court stated:

[W]e conclude that Furman v. Georgia does not destroy the system of classification of crimes in Louisiana. Murder is still a crime, and, when our legislature last acted with respect to it, murder was, as it has ever been, a capital crime. The crime remains unchanged; only the penalty has been changed. True, the penalty is what made murder a capital offense, and it is not actually a capital offense in Louisiana today. But the Nature of the offense has not changed-only the punishment.
Because the system of classifying certain serious offenses as capital, and then providing the procedural structure for the administration of criminal justice based on that classification is so fundamental in the organization of our criminal statutes, we find it preferable to make no change in the interpretation of the constitutional provisions concerning bail. Those offenses classified as capital before Furman v. Georgia are still classified as capital offenses, and those charged with an offense punishable by death before Furman v. Georgia are not entitled to bail where the proof is evident or the presumption great.

Flood, 263 La. at 705-06, 269 So.2d at 214.

         Likewise, in State v. Holmes (decided on the same day as Flood), the court found that murder remains classified as a capital case, although it could not be punished as such under Furman, and therefore must be tried before a unanimous, sequestered 12-person jury. Dicta suggests Flood and Holmes were decided against the backdrop of a belief that the Eighth Amendment problem identified in Furman could be readily remedied by a legislative switch to a mandatory death penalty.[4] That belief did not prove correct. In response to Furman, Louisiana, along with 21 other states, eliminated the jury's role in sentencing in a capital prosecution entirely by making the imposition of the death penalty mandatory. See John W. Poulos, The Supreme Court, Capital Punishment and the Substantive CriminalLaw: The Rise and Fall of ...

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