APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH
OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 15-3977, DIVISION
"F" HONORABLE MICHAEL P. MENTZ, JUDGE PRESIDING
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D.
Connick, Jr., Terry M. Boudreaux, Darren A. Allemand
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, ANTONIO CUZA Katherine M.
DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, ANTONIO CUZA In Proper Person
composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Robert A. Chaisson, and
John J. Molaison, Jr.
A. CHAISSON JUDGE
Antonio Cuza, appeals his conviction and sentence for
aggravated battery. For the reasons that follow, we affirm
defendant's conviction and sentence.
8, 2015, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney filed a bill
of information charging defendant with aggravated battery, in
violation of La. R.S. 14:34. At his arraignment, defendant
pled not guilty. The matter proceeded to trial before a
six-person jury on October 17, 2017. After considering the
evidence presented, the jury, on October 18, 2017, found
defendant guilty as charged.
November 8, 2017, defendant filed a motion for new trial,
arguing that the verdict was contrary to the law and evidence
presented at his trial, and a motion for post-verdict
judgment of acquittal, requesting the court to set aside the
verdict or enter a verdict of a lesser included offense. On
November 9, 2017, the trial judge heard and denied these two
motions and thereafter sentenced defendant to ten years
imprisonment at hard labor with credit for time
now appeals. His appointed appellate counsel has filed a
brief challenging the sufficiency of the evidence used to
convict defendant of aggravated battery. In addition,
defendant has filed a pro se brief, in which he
alleges that the evidence was insufficient to support his
conviction and that the trial court erred in denying the
defense request to conduct recross examination of one of the
State's witnesses. For the reasons that follow, we find
no merit to these arguments.
March 15, 2015, Abraham Ezekiel Montenegro-Sanchez allowed an
upstairs neighbor access to his apartment and yard for a
child's birthday party. When Mr. Montenegro arrived home
from work that day at about 5:00 p.m., he joined in the party
and began to drink with the other guests. It is undisputed
that during the party, an altercation occurred between Mr.
Montenegro and defendant, which resulted in the stabbing of
Mr. Montenegro. However, Mr. Montenegro and defendant
presented different versions of events as to the
circumstances leading up to the stabbing.
to Mr. Montenegro, at one point during the party, he observed
defendant pulling Elba Monroy Mojica's hair and hitting
her body with his fist.Upon seeing this, Mr. Montenegro and his
roommate, Joseluis Castellon, went over and grabbed defendant
so he would let her go. Defendant told them to let him go and
cursed at them. They released him, and defendant said that he
would see them soon. Mr. Montenegro went inside his apartment
with some friends and continued drinking, and approximately
ten minutes later, defendant returned and was holding two
knives. Mr. Montenegro grabbed a plastic bar stool to try to
defend himself, but defendant was able to stab Mr. Montenegro
on the left side of his back. This version of events was
corroborated at trial by Mr. Montenegro's roommate, Mr.
defense, however, presented a different scenario through the
testimony of Ms. Mojica, defendant's wife, and Osmel
Arencibia-Hernandez, a guest at the party. According to these
witnesses, Ms. Mojica and defendant left the party and went
to their upstairs apartment for a little while. When she came
back down alone, Mr. Montenegro tried to kiss her. Ms. Mojica
told Mr. Montenegro "no" and pushed him away;
however, he persisted in his attempt. Defendant then
proceeded down the stairs, saw what was happening, and told
Mr. Montenegro to stop bothering her. During this exchange,
Mr. Montenegro hit defendant, and a struggle ensued. Two of
Mr. Montenegro's friends joined in the fight, threw
defendant on the ground, and kicked him. As this was going
on, Mr. Montenegro momentarily left, then returned with a
knife, and swung it at defendant, resulting in a cut to
defendant's hand. According to Mr. Hernandez, the two men
continued to struggle over the knife, falling to the ground
at the base of the stairs, and both were covered in blood.
Galvez, an occupant of the apartment complex who was present
at the time of the stabbing, called 9-1-1 and then waited in
the parking lot for the police to arrive. When Deputy Richard
Wilson of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office arrived,
Mr. Galvez relayed that his friend had been stabbed and
identified defendant as the perpetrator. Deputy Wilson
thereafter detained defendant, who had an open and bleeding
cut on his hand. Both defendant and Mr. Montenegro were
transported to the hospital for treatment of their injuries.
OF THE EVIDENCE
appeal, defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence
used to convict him of aggravated battery. Defendant contends
that the evidence presented at trial established that he
acted in self-defense, and he further questions the
credibility determinations made by the jury.
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, an appellate court
must determine that the evidence, whether direct or
circumstantial, or a mixture of both, viewed in the light
most favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient to convince
a rational trier of fact that all of the elements of the
crime have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson
v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560
(1979); State v. Neal, 00-674 (La. 6/29/01), 796
So.2d 649, 657, cert. denied, 535 U.S. 940, 122
S.Ct. 1323, 152 L.Ed.2d 231 (2002); State v. Havies,
16-635 (La.App. 5 Cir. 3/15/17), 215 So.3d 457, 462.
directive that the evidence be viewed in the light most
favorable to the prosecution requires the reviewing court to
defer to the actual trier of fact's rational credibility
calls, evidence weighing, and inference drawing. This
deference to the fact-finder does not permit a reviewing
court to decide whether it believes a witness or whether the
conviction is contrary to the weight of the evidence.
State v. Caffrey, 08-717 (La.App. 5 Cir. 5/12/09),
15 So.3d 198, 202, writ denied, 09-1305 (La.
2/5/10), 27 So.3d 297. As a result, under the
Jackson standard, a review of a criminal conviction
record for sufficiency of the evidence does not require the
reviewing court to ask whether it believes that the evidence
at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but
whether, upon review of the whole record, any rational trier
of fact would have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
State v. Jones, 08-20 (La.App. 5 Cir. 4/15/08), 985
So.2d 234, 240.
making this determination, a reviewing court will not
re-evaluate the credibility of witnesses or re-weigh the
evidence. State v. Caffrey, supra. Indeed,
the resolution of conflicting testimony rests solely with the
trier of fact, who may accept or reject, in whole or in part,
the testimony of any witness. State v. Bailey, 04-85
(La.App. 5 Cir. 5/26/04), 875 So.2d 949, 955, writ
denied, 04-1605 (La. 11/15/04), 887 So.2d 476, cert.
denied, 546 U.S. 981, 126 S.Ct. 554, 163 L.Ed.2d 468
(2005). Thus, in the absence of internal contradiction or
irreconcilable conflicts with physical evidence, the
testimony of one witness, if believed by the trier of fact,
is sufficient to support a conviction. State v.
Dixon, 07-915 (La.App. 5 Cir. 3/11/08), 982 So.2d 146,
153, writ denied, 08-987 (La. 1/30/09), 999 So.2d
present case, defendant was convicted of aggravated battery,
in violation of La. R.S. 14:34. To support a conviction of
aggravated battery, the State must prove: 1) the defendant
intentionally used force or violence against the victim; 2)
the force or violence was inflicted with a dangerous weapon;
and 3) the dangerous weapon was used in a manner likely to
cause death or great bodily harm. State v. Havies,
215 So.3d at 462. Defendant does not challenge these
essential statutory elements, nor does he contest his
identification as the perpetrator. Rather, defendant asserts
that he established by a preponderance of the evidence that
the battery committed upon Mr. Montenegro was in
self-defense, and his conviction of aggravated battery should
be set aside. He suggests that the force he employed was
necessary and reasonable as Mr. Montenegro attempted to slash
his face with a knife.
fact that an offender's conduct is justifiable, although
otherwise criminal, shall constitute a defense to prosecution
for any crime based on that conduct. La. R.S. 14:18. The use
of force or violence upon the person of another is
justifiable when committed for the purpose of preventing a
forcible offense against the person, provided that the force
or violence used must be reasonable and apparently necessary
to prevent such offense. La. R.S. 14:19(A). The aggressor or
the person who brings on a difficulty cannot claim the right
of self-defense unless he withdraws from the conflict in good
faith and in such a manner that his adversary knows or should
know that he desires to withdraw and discontinue the
conflict. La. R.S. 14:21.
Court has repeatedly held that when self-defense or the
defense of another is claimed by the defendant in a
non-homicide case, the defendant has the burden of proof by a
preponderance of the evidence that his actions were in
self-defense or in defense of others. State v.
Howard, 15-473 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/9/15), 182 So.3d 360,
363; State v. Baham, 14-653 (La.App. 5 Cir.
3/11/15), 169 So.3d 558, 567, writ denied, 15-740
(La. 3/24/16), 190 So.3d ...