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State v. Wells

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 19, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
HERMAN F. WELLS

          APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 536-779, SECTION "A" Honorable Laurie A. White, Judge

          Sharon K. Hunter, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

          Leon Cannizzaro, District Attorney Donna Andrieu, Assistant District Attorney Irena Zajickova, Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT/THE STATE OF LOUISIANA.

          Court composed of Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Tiffany G. Chase

          ROSEMARY LEDET, JUDGE

         This is a State appeal from the quashal of a prosecution for failure to pay a child support obligation. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         For the purposes of this appeal, it is undisputed that Herman Wells owes an ongoing obligation to pay child support arising from a consent judgment entered in a civil child support proceeding pending before the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court (the "Child Support Case"). It is also undisputed that, as a result of Mr. Wells' failure to make payments as required in the Child Support Case, the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court entered a contempt judgment on July 21, 2015, making executory arrearages in the amount of $25, 308.11.

         On August 25, 2017, the State filed a bill of information charging Mr. Wells with one count of failure to pay a child support obligation in excess of $15, 000, a felony violation of La. R.S. 14:75(C)(5) (the "Orleans Parish Prosecution"). The bill of information alleges that, between July 21, 2015 and August 25, 2017, Mr. Wells failed to pay child support in the amount of $25, 000 or more.

         Before arraignment, Mr. Wells filed a motion to quash[1] the Orleans Parish Prosecution; and the State filed an opposition. On October 3, 2017, Mr. Wells failed to appear for arraignment; and the State and defense counsel requested that the arraignment be reset. Instead, the district court addressed the motion to quash. After argument, the district court granted the motion. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         In State v. Trepagnier, 14-0808, p. 5, n. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 11/19/14), 154 So.3d 670, 673, this court set forth the standard of review for a district court's ruling on a motion to quash as follows:

The standard of review that we apply in reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to quash varies based on the types of issues presented. When solely legal issues are presented-such as in the present case involving a motion to quash under La.C.Cr.P. art. 535 A(1) for failure to charge an offense punishable under a valid statute-we apply a de novo standard of review. State v. Olivia, 13-0496, pp. 2-3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/26/14), 137 So.3d 752, 754; State v. Schmolke, 12-0406, p. 4 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/16/13), 108 So.3d 296, 299; see also State v. Hamdan, 12-1986, p. 6 (La.3/19/13), 112 So.3d 812, 816 (noting that "[o]n appeal from the trial court's ruling on a motion to quash, the trial court's legal findings are subject to a de novo standard of review"). In contrast, when mixed issues of fact and law are presented-such as speedy trial violations and nolle prosequi dismissal-reinstitution cases-we apply an abuse of discretion standard. State v. Hall, 13-0453, pp. 11-12 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/9/13), 127 So.3d 30, 39 (citing State v. Tran, 12-1219, p. 2 (La.App. 4 Cir. 4/24/13), 115 So.3d 672, 673, n. 3) (explaining that "[i]n reviewing rulings on motions to quash where there are mixed questions of fact as well as law, as here, a trial judge's ruling on a motion to quash is discretionary and should not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion"); State v. Love, 00-3347, pp. 9-10 (La. 5/23/03), 847 So.2d 1198, 1206 ("[b]ecause the complementary role of trial courts and appellate courts demands that deference be given to a trial court's discretionary decision, an appellate court is allowed to reverse a trial court judgment on a motion to quash only if that finding represents an abuse of the trial court's discretion").

Id.; see also State v. Kelly, 13-0715, p. 2, n. 2 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/8/14), 133 So.3d 25, 27; State v. Williams, 14-0477, p. 6 (La.App. 4 Cir. 12/17/14), 156 So.3d 1285, 1288 (quoting Kelly, supra).

         In his motion to quash, Mr. Wells asserted two grounds: lis pendens and res judicata. In granting the motion, however, the district court relied on a third ground not asserted in the motion-jurisdiction. In its sole assignment of error, the State contends that the district court erred in granting the motion to quash for lack of jurisdiction because the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court has jurisdiction over this prosecution.[2]

         As one commentator has observed, in criminal cases, "[t]he concept of jurisdiction encompasses several different types of limitation upon judicial authority." [3] W ayne R. L a F ave, et al ., 4 C riminal P rocedure ("L a F ave "), ยง 16.1(a) (4th ed. 2003). Only two of those limitations- subject matter jurisdiction and venue-are at issue in this case. Because the district court did not specify ...


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