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State v. Dufrene

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 4, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
MICHAEL J. DUFRENE

          On Appeal from the Twenty-First Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Tangipahoa State of Louisiana No. 1500598, Div. "E" The Honorable Brenda Bedsole Ricks, Judge Presiding

          Patricia Parker Amos Assistant District Attorney Scott M. Perilloux District Attorney Amite, LA Attorneys for Appellee State of Louisiana

          Gwendolyn K. Brown Baton Rouge, LA Attorney for Defendant/Appellant Michael J. Dufrene

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE AND PENZATO, JJ.

          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         The defendant, Michael J. Dufrene, was charged by bill of information with three counts of forgery, violations of La. R.S. 14;72(B) (counts 1-3); and one count of theft over $1, 500.00, a violation of La. R.S. 14:67(B). He pled not guilty and, following a jury trial, was found guilty as charged on counts 1-3. On count 4, he was found guilty of the responsive offense of theft with a value of $750.00 or more, but less than $5, 000.00. The defendant filed a motion for new trial and in the alternative postverdict judgment of acquittal, which were denied. For each of the forgery convictions, the defendant was sentenced to seven years imprisonment at hard labor. For the theft conviction, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment at hard labor. All sentences were ordered to run consecutively. The defendant made oral and written motions to reconsider sentence, arguing that consecutive sentences were illegally harsh. In granting the motion in part, the trial court ordered that the sentence for the theft conviction run concurrently, reducing the total length of the sentence from twenty-four to twenty-one years. The sentences for the forgery convictions were ordered to remain consecutive. The defendant again objected to the consecutive sentences, which the trial court noted. The defendant also filed a pro-se motion for amendment, modification or reconsideration of sentence, which was denied. The defendant now appeals, designating five assignments of error. We affirm the convictions and sentences.

         FACTS

         Douglas Jiles moved and recovered pool tables and restored vintage Rolex watches. A few times, David Raiford helped Douglas Jiles move pool tables. On one particular occasion, Raiford and Jiles were on a moving job at Central Avenue Billiards in Amite. While Jiles was in the building, Raiford went inside Jiles's truck in the back parking lot and took several of Jiles's blank personal checks and a Rolex watch that was in the ashtray. According to Jiles, the watch was worth about $2, 600.00.

         Raiford filled out three of Jiles's checks. In the "Pay to the order of section, Raiford wrote in the name of the defendant, who was Raiford's friend. Raiford forged Jiles's signature on each of the checks. The checks were in the amounts of $950.00, $450.00, and $500.00. Raiford then gave the checks to the defendant to cash. Raiford also gave the defendant the Rolex watch he had stolen, to sell.

         On December 22, 2014, the defendant cashed two of the checks at two different banks in Hammond. This same day, the defendant went to Gold Into Cash pawn shop in Hammond and sold the Rolex watch for $200.00. The next day, on December 23, 2014, the defendant cashed the third check at one of the banks he had gone to the day before. According to the defendant, he gave all of the cash to Raiford.

         On January 13, 2015, the defendant went back to Gold Into Cash to try to sell a ring. The owner of the pawn shop called the police, and the defendant was arrested. Detective Antoine Vicknair, with the Hammond Police Department, interviewed the defendant that day regarding the checks he cashed and Rolex watch he had previously pawned. The defendant told the detective he did not realize that the checks he cashed were stolen or forged, and Raiford assured him the watch was not stolen, but belonged to Raiford's cousin or uncle.

         The defendant did not testify at trial.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR NOS. 1 and 2

         In his first and second assignments of error, the defendant argues the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions for forgery. Specifically, the defendant contends the State failed to prove he knew the checks were forged when he cashed them. In his brief, the defendant stresses that he did not sign the three checks that he cashed. The defendant argues, specifically, that there was no evidence to show that he knew the checks were forged. With no evidence to prove this essential element (with intent to defraud) of the crime of forgery, the defendant avers, the convictions cannot stand. As such, the defendant argues, the trial court erred in denying the motion for postverdict judgment of acquittal. The defendant does not challenge his theft conviction.

         A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand as it violates Due Process. See U.S. Const, amend. XIV; La. Const, 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); La. Code Crim. P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 2006-0207 (La. 11/29/06), 946 So.2d 654, 660; State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1308-09 (La. 1988). The Jackson standard of review, incorporated in Article 821, is an objective standard for testing the overall evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for reasonable doubt. State v. Patorno, 2001-2585 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/21/02), 822 So.2d 141, 144. When analyzing circumstantial evidence, La. R.S. 15:438 provides that the factfmder must be satisfied the overall evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Id.

         La. R.S. 14:72 provides in pertinent part:

A. It shall be unlawful to forge, with intent to defraud, any signature to, or any part of, any writing purporting to have legal efficacy.
B. Issuing, transferring, or possessing with intent to defraud, a forged writing, known by the offender to be a forged writing, shall also constitute a violation ...

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