Appealed from the Second Judicial District Court for the
Parish of Bienville, Louisiana Trial Court No. 44661
Honorable Glenn Fallin, Judge.
OFFICES OF CHRIS L. BOWMAN Counsel for Appellant By: Chris L.
Bowman, Christy Joynor Walker, Colby L. Bowman
W. NEWELL Counsel for Appellee District Attorney H. RUSSELL
DAVIS TERESA CULPEPPER CARROLL Assistant District Attorneys.
MOORE, PITMAN, and GARRETT, JJ.
defendant, Patricia Hampton, was convicted of theft over $1,
500, in violation of La. R.S. 14:67. She was sentenced to
three years at hard labor, with all but one year suspended,
and two years of supervised probation. Restitution was
ordered with a provision for early termination of probation
upon payment of restitution. The defendant appeals. Finding
merit to the defendant's assignment of error pertaining
to her Batson challenges, we vacate the
defendant's conviction and sentence. The matter is
remanded for a new trial.
2003, the defendant was hired by Mayor Eugene Smith as the
payment clerk for the Water & Sewer ("W&S")
Department of the Town of Arcadia ("the Town"). Her
job duties included receiving payments in the form of cash or
checks, logging the payments into the W&S computer
system, printing out a daily report of payments, and
depositing the funds into the Town's bank accounts.
2010, a routine audit of the Town's records found
discrepancies between the payments received and the deposits
made for the W&S Department. The auditors advised the
mayor of the situation. The matter was then turned over to
the Office of the Inspector General of Louisiana
("IG"), which opened an investigation. It was
ultimately determined that there was a discrepancy of $39,
076.60 between the amounts of W&S funds collected and
the investigation, the defendant was suspended without pay in
October 2010. She was subsequently fired, effective February
1, 2011. On August 30, 2011, the defendant was indicted for
theft over $1, 500, for the time period between July 2007 and
the next six years, continuances were obtained by both the
prosecution and the defense. Trial was finally held in
September 2017. A six-person jury found the defendant guilty
as charged. In January 2018, the trial court imposed a
sentence of three years at hard labor; however, it suspended
all but one year of the sentence and ordered two years of
supervised probation. The trial court further directed that
the defendant pay restitution to the Town, but specified that
it would allow early termination of probation upon payment of
defendant appeals, asserting 11 assignments of error.
However, due to our disposition of the assignments concerning
the defendant's Batson challenges, we do not
reach most of them.
defendant contends that the evidence, viewed in the light
most favorable to the state, did not support the jury's
verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.
issues are raised on appeal both as to the sufficiency of the
evidence and as to one or more trial errors, the reviewing
court should first determine the sufficiency of the evidence.
reason for reviewing sufficiency first is that the accused
may be entitled to an acquittal under Hudson v.
Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 101 S.Ct. 970, 67 L.Ed.2d 30
(1981), if a rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in
accord with Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99
S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, could not reasonably conclude
that all of the elements of the offense have been proved
beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Hearold, 603
So.2d 731 (La. 1992); State v. Pratt, 50, 152
(La.App. 2 Cir. 12/30/15), 184 So.3d 816, writ
denied, 16-0123 (La. 1/25/17), 215 So.3d 262. A
reviewing court, examining all of the evidence in the light
most favorable to the prosecution, must determine whether
"any rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, supra;
State v. Crawford, supra.
Jackson standard does not permit this court to
substitute its own appreciation of the facts for that of the
fact finder. State v. Robertson, 96-1048 (La.
10/4/96), 680 So.2d 1165. It is not the province of the
reviewing court to assess the credibility of witnesses or
reweigh evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116 (La.
10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442; State v. Crawford,
supra. A reviewing court accords great deference to
a jury's decision to accept or reject the testimony of a
witness in whole or in part. State v. Eason, 43, 788
(La.App. 2 Cir. 2/25/09), 3 So.3d 685, writ denied,
09-0725 (La. 12/11/09), 23 So.3d 913, cert. denied,
561 U.S. 1013, 130 S.Ct. 3472, 177 L.Ed.2d 1068 (2010);
State v. Simon, 51, 778 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1/10/18),
245 So.3d 1149.
Jackson standard is applicable in cases involving
both direct and circumstantial evidence. An appellate court
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in such cases must
resolve any conflict in the direct evidence by viewing that
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. When
the direct evidence is thus viewed, the facts established by
the direct evidence and inferred from the circumstantial
evidence must be sufficient for a rational trier of fact to
conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was
guilty of every essential element of the crime. State v.
Sutton, 436 So.2d 471 (La. 1983); State v.
English, 51, 505 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/9/17), 243 So.3d
evidence is defined as evidence of facts or circumstances
from which one might infer or conclude the existence of other
connected facts. State v. Walker, 51, 217 (La.App. 2
Cir. 5/17/17), 221 So.3d 951, writ denied, 17-1101
(La. 6/1/18), 243 So.3d 1064; State v.
Matthews, 50, 838 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/10/16), 200
So.3d 895, writ denied, 16-1678 (La. 6/5/17), 220
evidence provides proof of the existence of a fact, for
example, a witness's testimony that he saw or heard
something. Circumstantial evidence provides proof of
collateral facts and circumstances from which the existence
of the main fact may be inferred according to reason and
common experience. State v. Lilly, 468 So.2d 1154
(La. 1985); State v. Patterson, 50, 305 (La.App. 2
Cir. 11/18/15), 184 So.3d 739, writ denied, 15-2333
(La. 3/24/16), 190 So.3d 1190.
the conviction is based on circumstantial evidence, such
evidence must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of
innocence. La. R.S. 15:438. When a case involves
circumstantial evidence, and the jury reasonably rejects the
hypothesis of innocence presented by the defendant's own
testimony, that hypothesis falls, and the defendant is guilty
unless there is another hypothesis which raises a reasonable
doubt. State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676 (La. 1984);
State v. Walker, supra; State v.
jury reasonably and rationally rejects the exculpatory
hypothesis of innocence offered by a defendant's own
testimony, an appellate court's task in reviewing the
sufficiency of the evidence under the Due Process Clause is
at an end unless an alternative hypothesis is sufficiently
reasonable that a rational juror could not have found proof
of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v.
Calloway, 07-2306 (La. 1/21/09), 1 So.3d 417; State
v. Walker, supra; State v. Matthews,
cases where an essential element of the crime is not proven
by direct evidence, La. R.S. 15:438, concerning proof by
circumstantial evidence, applies. As an evidentiary rule, it
restrains the fact finder, as well as the reviewer on appeal,
to accept as proven all that the evidence tends to prove and
then to convict only if every reasonable hypothesis of
innocence is excluded. Whether circumstantial evidence
excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence presents a
question of law. State v. Shapiro, 431 So.2d 372
(La. 1982); State v. Matthews, supra.
elements of the crime of theft are: (1) there must be a
misappropriation or taking; (2) the misappropriation or
taking must be of a thing of value; (3) the thing must belong
to another; and (4) the misappropriation or taking must be
with the intent to deprive the other permanently of that
which is the subject of the taking. The prosecution must also
prove the value of the stolen thing because the value is
determinative of both the severity of the offense and the
degree of the punishment upon conviction. State v.
Robinson, 51, 498 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/9/17), 243 So.3d
evidence presented at trial established the access that
different employees at Arcadia's city hall had to the
W&S payment funds.
start of her workday, the defendant, as the water collections
clerk, would remove payments left in a drop box outside of
city hall; this usually included payments that were
mailed. She would then unlock her office in city
hall. The only individuals having keys to her office were the
defendant, the mayor, and a cleaning lady. The defendant
would unlock the cash drawer in her desk and count the drawer
to ensure that she had $100 cash to start the day; these
funds were used to make change when customers paid cash.
Several witnesses, including the defendant herself, testified
that she had the only key to the cash drawer. Aundrea Crane,
who worked for the Arcadia police chief and had an office in
city hall, testified that the defendant carried that key on
her wrist on a band and that the defendant consistently
locked the drawer. The defendant testified that she carried
her keys on her wrist when she arrived in the morning and
that during the workday she would hide the keys under a shelf
in her office until she got ready to leave at the end of the
day. The defendant testified that there was a lockbox in the
cash drawer, that she had keys to both the lockbox and the
cash drawer, and that she was the only one with control over
the course of the day, the defendant would take payments from
customers at the water collections window of her office. She
would enter the payment into the EasyBill program on her
computer and give the customer a receipt. She and Louria Dell
Jefferson, the water billing clerk whose office was across
the hall from the defendant's, were the only two
individuals who had the EasyBill program on their computer.
At the end of the workday, a printout was generated showing
the details of the day's payments, including the amount
and the name of the customer. The defendant was then
responsible for counting the funds, filling out deposit
slips, and taking the funds to the bank for deposit into the
Town's accounts.She subsequently brought the deposit slip
she got from the bank to the Town clerk, who entered the
deposits into the Town's bookkeeping
system. At some point, the defendant began
stapling the day's deposit slip to the report generated
by the computer for that day. If the deposit slip and the
report matched, the Town clerk had no concerns.
other city hall employees would occasionally accept payments
if the defendant was not at her collections window. If the
defendant was gone for several days, Jefferson would take the
payments. She gave the customers manual receipts, put the
payments in a bag, and gave them to the defendant upon her
return. According to Burris, if a customer came while the
defendant was away, she would slide the payment under the
defendant's window. Burris testified that she did not
post entries on the defendant's computer. She also
testified that she never saw Jefferson post anything to the
system either. Mayor Smith testified that he did not recall
ever receiving a water payment.
who began working for the police chief in March 2009,
testified that she would be asked to collect water payments
if the defendant was in an employee meeting or if the
defendant asked her to do so when she briefly left her
office. However, she was not called upon to do so often.
Crane said she would scan the barcode on the bill, and the
customer's name popped up on the computer. She would
place cash payments in the cash drawer and then give the
customer change, if required, and a receipt. If the customer
paid by check, she would usually hold the check and the bill
for the defendant to enter. She also stated that Jefferson
and Burris would take payments and had access to the
defendant's office. She testified that, when Jefferson
took a payment, she would not enter it in the computer;
instead, Jefferson would write a receipt by hand, put the
money in a bag, lock it up, and give it to the defendant upon
her return. While Crane said she knew Burris made computer
entries, it "seldom" happened.
was given about the EasyBill computer program utilized in the
W&S billing and collections. Mayor Smith testified that,
shortly after he became mayor in 2003, EasyBill was acquired
to replace a much more expensive system. However, EasyBill
did not automatically integrate with the Town's
accounting system as the prior system did; consequently,
billing and collections data had to be manually entered into
the accounting system. On occasion, there were issues with
EasyBill which required that the program be remotely accessed
by its vendor, David Carraway, from his office in
Mississippi, so he could fix it. Jefferson, the only other
person who had EasyBill on her computer, testified that she
had no complaints about the program.
recalled customers coming in "quite often" with a
cancelled check and complaining about not receiving credit
for payments made and the defendant telling them that she
would correct it. Crane also remembered customer complaints
about their bills not being correct and Carraway being
contacted by the defendant and Jefferson for assistance; she
said it "happened a lot." The defendant testified
that she had problems with her computer with customers'
names not showing up on the log sheet she printed. She said
that she did not know about it until they complained about
not getting credit for payments. She testified that, after
verifying on the computer that the customer had credit, she
would call Carraway, who would manually take care of it or
tell her how to correct the problem. The defendant conceded
in her testimony that Carraway had no access to or control of
the money, whereas she did.
Perry testified that she and her partner, Tonya Wade,
performed governmental audits in 2008, 2009, and 2010 to
check whether the Town's books were materially correct.
They initially discovered a minor discrepancy of $92 for
January 2010. They informed the mayor, who asked them to
investigate further. For January 2010, they found
discrepancies on six days which showed differences between
receipts and deposits totaling $868.30. For February 2010,
discrepancies were found on 11 days with a difference between
receipts and deposits of $1, 040.75. For March 2010, there
were discrepancies on three days totaling $63.26. For July
2010, they found discrepancies on three days which totaled
$262.09. For the four months they tested, the discrepancies
totaled $2, 234.40. After determining that the water deposits
did not match the water receipts, they informed the mayor of
their findings and the matter was turned over to the IG
Boulton, a criminal investigator for the IG Office, testified
that when he took over the case, the defendant had already
been indicted. He and two other investigators, Tracie Richard
and Jennifer Monteleone, reviewed the evidence themselves and
prepared a spreadsheet outlining the thefts. Monteleone also
testified. She and Boulton described the documents and
methodology they used in the course of their investigation.
Among other things, they reviewed the Town's bank
records, deposit records, monthly statements, and the
Town's generated records showing the amount reported as
collected and entered into the system for the water billing
collections. Their spreadsheet covered the dates of June 29,
2007, to June 29, 2010. It showed a difference of $39, 076.60
between the amount deposited into the bank and the amount
entered into the computer as collected. According to
Monteleone's testimony, the deposits were less than what
was entered into the computer on 307 days and more than what
was entered on 34 days.
Watson, an investigator for the Bienville Parish District
Attorney's Office, reviewed the financial records of the
defendant and her husband. He found that they routinely
deposited cash in their joint bank account and paid the
defendant's car note in cash. This pattern continued even
after the defendant was suspended without pay and she
obtained other employment.
defendant's husband testified for the defense and was
questioned about their financial situation. Of particular
note, he stated that he had taken out loans against his 401k
account - $1, 200.00 on August 9, 2007, and $2, 105.63 on
December 6, 2010. He also had made two to three hardship
withdrawals from his 401k account, which ranged from $900 to
$1, 200. On cross-examination, he admitted taking money out
of his 401k account every year between 2007 and 2010 for
"serious" financial issues.
defendant testified. She said that, in addition to herself,
payments were taken by the mayor, Jefferson, Crane, and
Burris. She admitted that there was no reason to think that
Jefferson took any money. As to Crane, the defendant stated
that she did not enter payments often and, while she knew how
to enter payments in the system, she did not know how to
print a report at the end of the day. The defendant initially
testified that, when Crane took payments, she would show the
defendant what she entered; however, later in the
defendant's testimony, she stated that, when Crane told
her that she had taken a payment and entered it, she did not
go into the computer and look at the entry. The defendant
initially testified that Burris did not know how to print the
report either. She then said Burris did know how and
furthermore denied saying that Burris did not know how. She
stated that Burris knew how but had never printed out a
report. The defendant said she did not check the entries made
by Burris. She also testified that the reports she printed at
the end of the day were eventually boxed up and placed in
storage. When Perry and Wade, the Town's auditors,
requested reports, she printed out the ones on the computer
instead of retrieving the ones that had been boxed up.
testimony established that the defendant was the only person
who, on a daily basis, had physical possession of the cash
that was paid on water bills, as well as control over the
computer entries of the payments into the EasyBill program,
the preparation of the deposit slips, the printing of the
daily report, and the transfer of the funds to the bank.
While other city hall personnel occasionally performed some
of these functions, only the defendant exerted control over
all of these steps.
defendant attempted to cast blame upon other city hall
employees, especially Burris. However, it is noteworthy that
the thefts at issue began in 2007, and both Crane and Burris,
the only other persons who made entries of water payments
into the computer system, did not begin working at city hall
until, respectively, March 2009 and April 2009.
audits showed discrepancies in excess of $39, 000.00.
However, the state was only required to prove that the
defendant had stolen the threshold amount for felony theft,
which the indictment stated was $1, 500. To satisfy this
element of the offense, the state introduced during
Boulton's testimony three exhibits which showed the
differences between the amounts entered and the amounts
deposited for the dates of November 6, 2007 ($835.30),
January 13, 2009 ($546.32), and July 21, 2009 ($475.73).
Added together, they amounted to an aggregate of $1, 857.35.
Also admitted were deposit slips from those dates which the
defendant conceded were in her handwriting.
on each of these three dates, La. R.S. 14:67 provided that
the threshold for the highest grade of theft was only $500,
not $1, 500. In fact, we note the spreadsheet used by
the IG investigators in their testimony only went up to the
end of June 2010, before the highest grade of theft was
raised from $500 to $1, 500 on August 15, 2010. Consequently,
the missing funds on the November 6, 2007 and January 13,
2009 dates alone were separately sufficient to prove felony
theft. Furthermore, as noted above, neither Burris nor Crane,
the only other persons known to enter water payments into the
computer system, worked in city hall at those times.
Additionally, the defendant admitted Crane did not know how
to print the report at the end of the day; she admitted the
same as to Burris. However, she then denied making her
initial statement that Burris lacked that knowledge, and then
said that Burris knew how but had never done it.
that, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution,
the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant's
conviction for felony theft regardless of whether the amount
was $500 or $1, 500. The jury's decision to accept the
testimony of the state's witnesses and reject the
defendant's self-serving testimony was a credibility call
and entitled to great deference. The jury reasonably rejected
the hypothesis of innocence presented by the defendant's
testimony and no alternative hypothesis was sufficiently
reasonable that a rational juror could not have found proof
of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant alone had
unfettered access to the funds and the ability to conceal the
thefts. This assignment of error lacks merit.
defendant, who is an African-American woman, raises several
assignments of error pertaining to mistakes made during jury
selection, including improprieties in the handling of her
Batson challenges. We find merit in several of these
complaints as the trial court committed legal error in its
analysis of the defendant's Batson challenges
and deprived the defendant of any meaningful consideration of
explain our ruling, we find it necessary to first set forth
our understanding of how Batson challenges should be
handled by the lower court. Next, we find it necessary to set
forth, in some detail, what occurred in this case during jury
Constitution forbids striking even a single prospective juror
for a discriminatory purpose. Foster v. Chatman,
__U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 1737, 1747, 195 L.Ed.2d 1 (2016);
Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 478, 128 S.Ct.
1203, 1208, 170 L.Ed.2d 175 (2008). An exercise by the state
of its peremptory strikes to remove potential jurors from the
venire panel solely on the basis of race violates the Equal
Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. See
Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 89, 106 S.Ct. 1712,
1719, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). Batson and its progeny
provide a three-step process to guide courts in evaluating a
claim of racial discrimination in the voir dire process:
(1) a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a
peremptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race;
(2) if the requisite showing has been made, the prosecution
"must demonstrate that 'permissible racially neutral
selection criteria and procedures have produced the
monochromatic result;'" and
(3) in light of the parties' submissions, the trial court
must determine if the "defendant has established
State v. Crawford
violation of a prospective juror's equal protection
rights under Batson is proven by evidence of a
racially discriminatory purpose, not a racially
discriminatory result. State v. Dorsey, 10-0216 (La.
9/7/11), 74 So.3d 603, cert. denied, 566 U.S. 930,
132 S.Ct. 1859, 182 L.Ed.2d 658 (2012); State v.
Green, 94-0887 (La. 5/22/95), 655 So.2d 272. Thus, the
sole focus of the Batson inquiry is upon the intent
of the prosecutor at the time he exercised his peremptory
strikes. State v. Dorsey, supra; State
v. Green, supra; State v. Simon,
establish a prima facie case, the objecting party must show:
(1) the striking party's challenge was directed at a
member of a cognizable group; (2) the challenge was
peremptory rather than for cause; and (3) relevant
circumstances sufficient to raise an inference that the
peremptory challenge was used to strike the venireperson on
account of his or her being a member of that cognizable
group. If the trial court determines the opponent failed to
establish the threshold requirement of a prima facie case
(step one), then the analysis is at an end and the burden
never shifts to the proponent of the strike to articulate
neutral reasons (step two). State v. Berry, 51, 213
(La.App. 2 Cir. 5/17/17), 221 So.3d 967; State v.
satisfy Batson's first-step requirement for the
establishment of a prima facie case of purposeful
discrimination, a moving party need only produce
"evidence sufficient to permit the trial judge to draw
an inference that discrimination has occurred."
State v. Crawford, supra; State v.
Elie, 05-1569 (La. 7/10/06), 936 So.2d 791.
establishment of a prima facie case is not to be so onerous
that a defendant would have to persuade the judge - on the
basis of all the facts, some of which are impossible for the
defendant to know with certainty - that the challenge was
more likely than not the product of purposeful
discrimination. Johnson v. California, 545 U.S. 162,
125 S.Ct. 2410, 162 L.Ed.2d 129 (2005); State v.
Broussard, 16-1836 (La. 1/30/18), __So. 3d.__, 2018 WL
618741; State v. Sparks, 1988-0017 (La. 5/11/11), 68
So.3d 435, cert. denied, 566 U.S. 908, 132 S.Ct.
1794, 182 L.Ed.2d 621 (2012).
Batson challenge is made, it is incumbent upon the
trial judge to address the challenge, either by ruling on
whether a prima facie case of discriminatory intent has been
made or by requiring race-neutral reasons for the strikes.
State v. Myers, 99-1803 (La. 4/11/00), 761 So.2d
burden of persuasion never shifts from the opponent of the
strike. State v. Crawford, supra; State
v. Nelson, 10-1724, 10-1726, (La. 3/13/12), 85 So.3d 21.
However, after the opponent of the strike establishes a prima
facie case of racial discrimination, the burden of production
shifts to the proponent of the strike to articulate
race-neutral reasons for its use of peremptory challenges.
Not until steps one and two of ...