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State v. Fitch

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

April 11, 2018



          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D. Connick, Jr. Terry M. Boudreaux Darren A. Allemand


          Panel composed of Judges Marc E. Johnson, Hans J. Liljeberg, and Marion F. Edwards, Judge Pro Tempore


         Defendant, Eric Fitch, appeals his conviction for purse snatching on the basis the evidence was insufficient to convict him. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Defendant was charged in a bill of information on January 14, 2016 with purse snatching in violation of La. R.S. 14:65.1. He pled not guilty and filed a motion to suppress identification, which was denied after a hearing. After being found competent to stand trial, Defendant proceeded to trial before a six-person jury on February 14, 2017, and was found guilty as charged.

         On February 16, 2017, before Defendant was sentenced, the State filed a multiple offender bill of information alleging Defendant to be a third felony offender. Defendant appeared for sentencing on February 24, 2017, and was sentence to 20 years at hard labor. Immediately following the imposition of sentence, Defendant stipulated to the allegations contained in the multiple bill. The trial court vacated his original sentence and resentenced Defendant as a third felony offender to an enhanced 20 years at hard labor without the benefit of probation or suspension of sentence. This out-of-time appeal follows.

         On November 28, 2015, Rosalie Palmisano - the victim - and her friend, Danielle Scott, left a local sports bar on Jefferson Highway where they had been drinking and watching an LSU football game. Upon leaving the bar that evening, the victim was approached in the parking lot by a man requesting a cigarette. The victim advised the man that she did not smoke and proceeded to open the passenger-side car door. Placing her leftover food from the bar on the dashboard and her purse on the floorboard, she began to climb into the car when the man pushed her up against the car's interior console, grabbed her purse, and ran down the street.[1]

         The victim recalled that the man who approached her was Caucasian, in his early thirties, "maybe blonde hair, " and was wearing black pants, a white shirt, and dark rimmed glasses.[2] She further reported that her cell phone was in the purse that was taken. The reporting officers were able to trace the victim's cell phone to the 500 block of Arnoult Road; however, efforts to locate the suspect were fruitless so a second trace was performed indicating the location of the cell phone near the neighboring 500 block of Sizeler Road. The officers relocated to the area near Sizeler Road where they found Defendant, matching the description given by the victim, hiding in a dumpster behind a Winn Dixie parking lot along with the victim's purse and its contents, refusing to surrender to the authorities.[3]

         Defendant was eventually apprehended and the victim was contacted by police officers who transported her to the alleyway behind the Winn Dixie store where she identified Defendant - after having asked the officers to have the suspect put on the dark rimmed glasses in his possession - as the man who had stolen her purse earlier that evening. The victim's purse and its contents - including her cell phone, sunglasses, and wallet containing money and "various cards" - were recovered in the dumpster where Defendant was found hiding.

         In his sole assignment of error, Defendant argues the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction for purse snatching, and at most, the evidence only proved the crime of theft. Specifically, Defendant contends the State was unable to meet an essential element of the crime charged when it failed to prove that the victim's purse was in her immediate control or on her person at the time it was taken. Defendant further challenges the State's proof regarding his identity as the perpetrator, noting that the description of the suspect provided by the victim did not reference the notable tattoo on the left side of his neck.

         A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand as it violates due process. See U.S. Constitution amend. XIV; La. Constitution art. I, § 2. The standard of review for the sufficiency of the evidence to uphold a conviction is whether or not, 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 beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). See also La. C.Cr.P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 06-207 (La. 11/29/06); 946 So.2d 654, 660. Both the direct and circumstantial evidence must be sufficient to support the conclusion that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Harrell, 01-841 (La.App. 5 Cir. 2/26/02); 811 So.2d 1015, 1019. A reviewing court is required to consider the whole record and determine whether a rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Price, 00-1883 (La.App. 5 Cir. 7/30/01); 792 So.2d 180, 184.

         Defendant was convicted of purse snatching, which is defined as "the theft of anything of value contained within a purse or wallet at the time of the theft, from the person of another or which is in the immediate control of another, by use of force, intimidation, or by ...

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