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State v. Richards

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

February 21, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
KAREEM RICHARDS

         APPLICATION FOR WRITS DIRECTED TO CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 532-844, SECTION "C" Honorable Benedict J. Willard, Judge

          Sean Collins Orleans Public Defenders COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/RELATOR.

          Leon Cannizzaro, District Attorney Donna Andrieu, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Guillory, Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR STATE OF LOUISIANA/RESPONDENT.

          (Court composed of Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Pro Tempore).

          SANDRA CABRINA JENKINS JUDGE.

         Relator/defendant seeks review of the trial court's December 20, 2017 ruling that overruled the defense's written objection to the State's discovery redaction. For the following reasons, we grant defendant's writ and remand this matter to the trial court to conduct an ex parte proceeding with the State in accordance with the mandatory provisions of La. C.Cr.P. art. 729.7.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 17, 2017, defendant was indicted for one count of second degree murder and one count of obstruction of justice. After entering a plea of not guilty, defendant filed several motions, including a motion for discovery. On April 7, 2017, the State tendered initial discovery, including police reports from the investigation leading to defendant's arrest and indictment. However, the State redacted identifying information as to two witnesses in the police reports. In response, on July 24, 2017, defendant filed a motion for supplemental discovery and, in accordance with La. C.Cr.P. art. 729.7, a written motion objecting to the State's redaction of information identifying the witnesses.

         On December 20, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on defendant's motion objecting to the State's discovery redaction. At the hearing, the State agreed to provide defendant with information and a recorded statement as to one of the redacted witnesses. However, the State argued that the identity of the second witness was protected, pursuant to La. R.S. 46:1844(W) and La. Ch. C. arts. 322 and 323, because the witness is a juvenile. Defense counsel argued that the statutes cited by the State were inapplicable; and, in accordance with the mandatory, governing provisions of La. C.Cr.P. art. 729.7, the trial court should hold an ex parte, in camera hearing with the State where it must make a prima facie showing that the witness's safety may be compromised. Following arguments, the trial court stated, "I'll just rule that the person is protected."

         DISCUSSION

         In this writ, defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in determining the redacted witness was "protected" without conducting an ex parte hearing pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 729.7. For the following reasons, we find the trial court's ruling was legal error.

         First, we note that La. C.Cr.P. art. 718 authorizes and requires the production of law enforcement reports, [1] as follows:

Subject to the limitation of Article 723 of this Code, and except as otherwise prohibited by law, upon written motion of the defendant, the court shall order the district attorney to permit or authorize the defendant to inspect and copy, photograph or otherwise reproduce law enforcement reports created and known to the prosecutor made in connection with the particular case, and to permit or authorize the defendant or an expert working with the defendant, to inspect, copy, examine, test scientifically, photograph, or otherwise reproduce books, papers, documents, photographs, tangible objects, buildings, places, or copies or portions thereof that are within the possession, custody, or control of the state, and that are intended for use by the state as evidence in its case in chief at trial, or were obtained from or belong to the defendant.

         Recognizing that, under certain circumstances, the disclosure of information identifying witnesses may compromise witness safety, La. C.Cr.P. art. 729.7 provides a ...


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