Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court
Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Trial Court
No. 01-15-0492 The Honorable Bonnie P. Jackson, Judge
C. Moore III District Attorney Dale R. Lee Assistant District
Attorney Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for the State of
T. Vo Clark Mandeville, Louisiana Attorney for the Defendant,
James Mills Jr.
BEFORE: McDONALD, CRAIN, AND HOLDRIDGE, JJ.
defendant, James Mills Jr., appeals his second-degree murder
conviction and sentence of life imprisonment without benefit
of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. We affirm.
night of October 5, 2014, the defendant and a masked man
approached Miguel Cueva-Alvarado and Hancy Sanchez, who were
smoking outside Hancy's apartment near the intersection
of Staring Lane and Burbank Drive in Baton Rouge. The
defendant carried a .38 Special revolver and wore a black
jacket and hat, but his face was not covered. Miguel and
Hancy were shown the gun and told to raise their hands, then
the masked man went through their pockets and took their cell
phones. The perpetrators began walking away, but the
defendant went back to Hancy and asked for the password to
his phone. When Hancy did not answer and called out to
another friend, the defendant shot Hancy in the head, killing
him. As the defendant fled, Miguel grabbed and pulled off his
jacket. The defendant also left the gun at the scene. Within
hours, Miguel identified the defendant as the shooter in a
six-person photo lineup. Miguel testified at trial and
identified the defendant as the shooter.
defendant contends he was denied his right of confrontation
and right to a fair trial by the trial court's refusal to
allow cross-examination of Miguel about pending criminal
charges, including charges initiated in 2017 in Ascension
Parish for possession with intent to distribute cocaine,
illegal carrying of a weapon while in possession of cocaine,
and criminally negligent discharge of a firearm, as well as
federal charges for violating immigration laws.
party may attack the credibility of a witness by questioning
him about any matter having a reasonable tendency to disprove
the truthfulness or accuracy of his testimony or through
extrinsic evidence showing the witness' bias, interest,
corruption, or defect of capacity, unless otherwise provided
by legislation. La. Code Ev. art. 607. Louisiana's Code
of Evidence specifically provides that every witness in a
criminal case subjects himself to examination relative to his
criminal convictions, and that evidence of an arrest, arrest
warrant, indictment, prosecution, or acquittal may not be
used to impeach the witness' general credibility.
See La. Code Ev. art. 609.1; State v. Brady,
381 So.2d 819, 821-22 (La. 1980). However, this does not mean
a witness may never be questioned about arrests or pending
criminal defendant has the fundamental constitutional right
to confront the witnesses against him, which includes the
right to cross-examine the state's witnesses.
See U.S. Const, amend. 6; La. Const, art. 1 §
16; Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315-16, 94 S.Ct.
1105, 1110, 39 L.Ed.2d 347 (1974); State v.
Robinson, 01-0273 (La. 5/17/02), 817 So.2d 1131, 1135.
Cross-examination is the primary means of testing the
truthfulness of a witness' testimony and an essential
safeguard of a fair trial. See Davis, 415 U.S. at
316; Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 404, 385 S.Ct.
1065, 1068, 13 L.Ed.2d 923 (1965); Robinson, 817
So.2d at 1135. To cross-examine a witness effectively, a
defendant must be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate any
bias or self-interest attached to the witness' testimony.
See La. Code Evid. art. 607D(1); State v.
Rankin, 465 So.2d 679, 681 (La. 1985). A witness'
hope or knowledge he will receive leniency from the state is
highly relevant to establish bias or interest, as is the
possibility the prosecution may have some leverage over a
witness due to pending criminal charges or a plea agreement.
See Rankin, 465 So.2d at 681; Brady, 381
So.2d at 822; State v. Franks, 363 So.2d 518, 520
(La. 1978); State v. Mills, 13-0573 (La.App. 1 Cir.
8/27/14), 153 So.3d 481, 489, write denied, 14-2027
(La. 5/22/15), 170 So.3d 982, and 14-2269 (La.
9/18/15), 178 So.3d 139. Thus, cross-examination regarding
arrests or pending charges may be appropriate to expose a
witness' motivation in testifying. See Brady,
381 So.2d at 822.
the state indicated Miguel would testify, the trial court
recessed the jury to address the defendant's request to
question Miguel about his arrest history and pending criminal
charges. The state argued it would be inappropriate to
question Miguel, an armed robbery victim in this case, about
events that occurred subsequent to this crime. Further, the
state argued Miguel faced prosecution in another parish and
deportation by federal immigration authorities, and Miguel
expressed his willingness to testify after the state clearly
explained Miguel "is not getting a deal" and the
prosecutor in this case had no ability to help him. The
defense maintained the questioning was proper to establish
the hope that cooperation in this case would result in
favorable treatment in the proceedings in the other parish or
by the federal authorities. The trial court denied the
defendant's request, reasoning Miguel's arrest
history was not relevant given his statement on the night of
the crime and, based on the state's representations,
Miguel had no reasonable expectation of advantageous
treatment as a result of his testimony. The trial court
confirmed Miguel would testify dressed in prison garb and the
jury would know he was incarcerated; however, the trial court
found no basis for providing the jury with details of his
basis beyond speculation for arguing Miguel's testimony
was biased because he hoped to garner favor from the state
relative to his pending charges, we find no error in the
trial court's ruling. Cf. State v. Grace, 94-295
(La.App. 5 Cir. 9/27/94), 643 So.2d 1306, 1307-09 (the trial
court properly refused to allow cross-examination of the
state's witness regarding charges against him where there
was no evidence of a deal or other indicia of bias or
prejudice); Davis, 818 So.2d at 81-83 (questioning
about pending charges in another jurisdiction that were
placed on inactive status should have been allowed where the
defendant was attempting to show that by collaboration
between jurisdictions, the state had some leverage over the
witness); State v. Harrison,484 So.2d 882, 883-84
(La.App. 1 Cir.), writ denied,488 So.2d 688 (La.
1986) (questioning about dismissed charges should have been
allowed where the time limitation on prosecuting the witness
had not lapsed). The jury was aware Miguel was incarcerated,
and Miguel testified he was in this country illegally.
Furthermore, Miguel was not just a witness, but a victim of
armed robbery in this case, and testified consistently with
his identification of the defendant as the shooter made hours
after the crime. These facts and the evidence of the
defendant's guilt, including a video interview where the
defendant implicated himself as at least a principal to the
murder,  the defendant's jacket at the murder
scene, and the defendant's DNA on the victims' cell
phones ensure the guilty verdict was not attributable to the
trial court's refusal to allow the defendant to question