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State v. Bridges

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 27, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
ROBERT ALAN BRIDGES Appellant

          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 338, 987 Honorable Roy L. Brun, Judge.

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Annette F. Roach Counsel for Appellant.

          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney TRENEISHA JACKSON HILL REBECCA ARMAND EDWARDS Assistant District Attorneys.

          Before BROWN, GARRETT, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         The defendant, Robert Alan Bridges, was convicted as charged of indecent behavior with a juvenile, in violation of La. R.S. 14:81, for sending a lewd text message to a 14-year-old girl. He was sentenced to four years at hard labor. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $4, 000 or serve three years in the parish jail in lieu of payment. We affirm the defendant's conviction. However, we amend the sentence to vacate the portion ordering jail time in default of payment of a fine and affirm the sentence as amended.

         FACTS

         The 14-year-old female victim knew the married, adult male defendant from church, where he attended a Sunday school class taught by one of her grandparents. On February 22, 2016, the victim had her iPad with her in gym class when the following message from the defendant appeared on the screen:

         This message was accompanied by the defendant's name, screen name, and photo. A second message - "Hello??" - followed.

         A gym teacher saw the victim with the iPad and confiscated it. Upon seeing the message, the gym teacher reported it to a school counselor. Sgt. Andray Miles, a deputy sheriff who served as the school resource officer, was then informed of the situation, and he contacted the Youth Services Division of the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office. Sgt. Miles testified that, after locating another photo of the defendant on Facebook, he contacted his headquarters to obtain the defendant's date of birth and verified that he was an adult.

         During the ensuing investigation, the defendant was interviewed on two occasions by Detective Trey Keene. In the first interview, the defendant denied sending any sexually inappropriate messages to the victim. In the second interview, which occurred three days later, the defendant admitted sending the message at issue.[1] Both interviews were recorded. The defendant was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile.

         At a preliminary examination on April 19, 2016, the trial court found probable cause for the charge. On the same date, the state tendered its discovery items to the defense. They consisted of 73 pages of documents filed in the record, as well as "a copy of four DVDs and three CDs" received by defense counsel in court. Included in the discovery documents was a written report by Detective Jared Marshall, the investigator who conducted the forensic search of the victim's iPad and the defendant's cell phone. He specifically described some of the deleted files he recovered from an S.D. card found attached to the defendant's cell phone. They included nude photos, some of the defendant and some of children.[2]

         At the April 2017 trial, the state presented the testimony of the victim, the gym teacher, Sgt. Miles, Detective Keene, and Detective Marshall. The victim testified that the gym teacher took the iPad away from her before she could read the message from the defendant. She stated that she and the defendant were Facebook friends and used Facebook Messenger to communicate outside of church. In addition to messages, she testified that they had exchanged inappropriate pictures, "[s]tuff that shouldn't have been sent." According to her testimony, in one of the photos sent to her by the defendant, he was clothed on the top but "exposed" on the bottom.[3]Detective Keene testified about his interviews with the defendant, specifically the defendant's denials in the first one and his admissions in the second interview. He also stated that, while he did not know his exact age, the defendant was over the age of 18 years.

         During Detective Marshall's testimony, the defense made an objection and asked for the jury to be removed before he was questioned about what he found during the forensic search of the defendant's cell phone. The defendant objected to the state eliciting testimony about nude photos found on the cell phone. The state agreed not to refer to the photos of naked children found on the device. However, the state noted that there was "a lot of pornographic material found" on the phone which it believed was relevant and which was included in the materials tendered to the defense in discovery. The defense objected to "all of it." The state then announced its intention to ask questions about the defendant's internet search for certain topics, such as "naïve teen girl." According to the state, Detective Marshall had placed a software report, which included thumbnail photos of the defendant's cell phone internet search history, on a disc, and it had been tendered to the defense during discovery. The trial court examined the "thumbnails" and asked if the evidence was of a "lustful disposition." The state indicated it was not, and that the websites were legal and did not involve child pornography. Ultimately, the trial court reasoned that La. C.E. art. 412.2, which pertains to evidence of similar crimes, wrongs, or acts in sex offense cases, was applicable. The trial court also applied a prejudicial versus probative analysis. It sustained the objection in part and denied it in part, limiting the testimony to websites referencing behavior similar to that of which the defendant was accused. Thereafter, Detective Marshall testified before the jury that the internet history on the defendant's cell phone had links to pornographic videos with titles including words like "teen naïve" and "virgin." He also stated that he was able to recover some deleted material from an S.D. card in the cell phone which included numerous photos of an erect penis.

         The defendant testified on his own behalf. He denied sending the victim any inappropriate or sexual messages, denied confessing the same to Detective Keene, and claimed his Facebook account was hacked, most likely by a man with whom his former wife had been involved. On rebuttal, the state recalled Detective Keene and played for the jury a portion of his second interview with the defendant in which the defendant admitting sending the message at issue.[4] A unanimous jury found the defendant guilty as charged.

         The defendant filed a motion for new trial and a motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal. Following a hearing, both motions were denied. As to the motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal, the defense argued that the state failed to establish the defendant's age because no evidence was presented as to his date of birth. In denying this motion, the trial court specifically cited the testimony of Detective Keene that the defendant was over the age of 18. The trial court also stated, "[w]hile we may not be able to pin the exact year, I think everyone would agree he's at least 30 years old because we can all see him."[5]

         Finding no mitigating factors and several aggravating factors, including the defendant's "utter lack of any remorse" and his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions, the trial court sentenced the defendant to four years at hard labor.[6] Additionally, it imposed a $4, 000 fine, and ordered that the defendant serve three years in the parish jail in lieu of payment of the fine. The defendant's motion to reconsider sentence was denied. The defendant appealed.

         SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE

         The defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal. He maintains that there was no "completed act" because the gym teacher intercepted his message to the 14-year-old intended recipient before she saw it. As a result, he requests that his conviction be vacated and the responsive verdict of attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile be entered.

         Law

         The standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the evidence claim 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 (1979); State v. Tate, 2001-1658 (La. 5/20/03), 851 So.2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905, 124 S.Ct. 1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004); State v. Sullivan, 51, 180 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/15/17), 216 So.3d 175, writ not cons., 2017-0895 (La. 9/6/17), 226 So.3d 428. This standard, now legislatively embodied in La.C.Cr.P. art. 821, does not provide the appellate court with a vehicle to substitute its own appreciation of the evidence ...


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