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State v. Ardison

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 26, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
ROOSEVELT T. ARDISON Appellant

          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 349995 Honorable Erin Leigh Waddell Garrett, Judge.

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT BY: CHAD IKERD COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT

          JAMES EDWARD STEWART, SR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE

          ROSS STEWART OWEN ERICA N. JEFFERSON CHARLES KENNETH PARR ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS

          Before WILLIAMS, McCALLUM, and THOMPSON, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, C.J., dissents with written reasons.

          McCALLUM, J.

         Roosevelt Ardison appeals his convictions for possession with the intent to distribute cocaine and for possession of a firearm or carrying a concealed weapon by a convicted felon, and the concurrent 20-year sentences that he received for his convictions.

         We affirm his convictions, vacate his sentences, and remand for resentencing.

         FACTS

         Donald Belanger Jr. is an agent with the Shreveport Police Department's street level interdiction unit. John Witham is a narcotics agent with the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office ("CPSO"). On June 8, 2017, Belanger and Witham were on patrol in the 1600 block of Oakdale Street in Shreveport when they came upon a "trap house" located at 1653 Oakdale. A trap house is a house where drug dealers, who do not live at that particular home, gather to ply their trade.

         As they pulled up to the trap house, the agents saw one male, defendant Roosevelt Ardison, standing in the driveway with a small female child with him. Two older males were sitting in chairs in the driveway. Ardison, who began walking toward the street when the agents approached the men, complied when Belanger asked him to step back into the driveway. Meanwhile, Witham dealt with the other two men.

         Belanger, noting that Ardison was looking around and fearing that he may be armed because of the number of drug and weapon arrests that had been made at that location, decided to pat down Ardison for weapons. When Belanger touched Ardison's back and told him what he was doing, Ardison tried to pull away forcefully and violently. Belanger pinned Ardison's arms against his body. During the struggle, a 9mm handgun in Ardison's waistband was exposed. Agent Witham successfully retrieved the weapon, which contained eight rounds in its magazine.

         As Belanger took Ardison to the ground, Ardison threw a black object which turned out to be a sock containing a gram of cocaine packaged in 11 individual bags. While being interviewed by Belanger, Ardison admitted that the handgun was his, but claimed that he was only holding the cocaine for someone else.

         Ardison was charged by bill of information with: (1) violating La. R.S. 14:95.1 by possessing a firearm or carrying a concealed weapon as a person convicted of certain felonies; and (2) violating La. R.S. 40:967(A)(1) by possessing a Schedule II CDS with the intent to distribute.

         Ardison filed a motion to suppress the gun and drugs on the ground that the officers lacked justification to physically stop him from walking away by grabbing him. His motion to suppress was denied.

         A jury trial was held in this matter on March 5-6, 2018. Tim Mills, a probation and parole specialist with Louisiana State Probation and Parole, testified that he supervised Ardison in connection with a November 28, 2000, guilty plea to distribution of a Schedule I CDS. Ardison was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment at hard labor for that conviction. Ardison, who had a full-term parole date of December 23, 2017, was still under Mills' supervision at the time of his arrest for the instant offenses.

         Ardison was convicted by the jury as charged. The jury was unanimous on the weapon charge, but not on the drug charge.

         On May 8, 2018, Ardison filed a motion for a post-verdict judgment of acquittal and a motion for a new trial. Ardison appeared for sentencing on September 12, 2018. The court denied the pending motions before sentencing Ardison to 20 years of imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on the firearm conviction. On the conviction of possession with the intent to distribute a Schedule II CDS, Ardison was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment at hard labor, with two years to be served without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. The two sentences were to be served concurrently. Ardison was given credit for time served.

         On September 27, 2018, Ardison filed a motion to reconsider sentence in which he contended that his sentences were constitutionally excessive and that the trial court failed to adequately consider his age. The trial court denied the motion on October 2, 2018.

         Ardison has appealed, arguing that: (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress; (2) the trial court failed to adequately build a record with reasons justifying his concurrent sentences of 20 years; (3) his sentences are constitutionally excessive; and (4) his rights to due process and a fair trial were violated by Louisiana allowing a non-unanimous jury conviction.

         DISCUSSION

         Motion to suppress

         In his motion to suppress the drugs and weapon, Ardison argued that the evidence should be suppressed because the agents lacked a reason or cause to stop him.

         Agent Belanger testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress that he and Agent Witham were on routine patrol when they stopped at a home in the 1600 block of Oakdale that was well-known as a trap house. Belanger described a trap house as a home where nobody in particular lives, but where drug dealers set up shop. Belanger asserted that he had been at that residence many times for narcotics activity, and he considered it to be in a high crime area.

         Ardison was standing in the driveway while holding the hand of a very young girl. Two older males were sitting in lawn chairs. Belanger noted that when they typically approached people outside that residence, someone would throw away drugs or weapons while running from the location.

         As Belanger and Witham exited their vehicle and approached the three men, two of the men remained seated, but Ardison began walking out to the street. Belanger "cut off" Ardison's route and asked him to come back to the driveway, which Ardison did. Belanger noted that Ardison positioned the child between them and was acting in an evasive and suspicious manner. Based on Ardison's behavior and the nature of the location, Belanger began to suspect that Ardison may be armed. By the nature of the location, Belanger meant that it was a high crime and high drug area, and usually someone was armed whenever officers had gone to that particular residence. Belanger put his arm to Ardison's back, told him to relax, and stated he was going to pat him down. It was at that point that Ardison began resisting. The weapon in Ardison's waistband was revealed as the pair struggled.

         Asked if he had blocked Ardison's way, Belanger explained that he walked around the back of Ardison and asked him to "come back over here." Ardison, who complied by changing direction toward the house, returned to nearly the same spot in the driveway where he had been originally standing.

         Belanger noted that Ardison continued to act in an evasive manner as he stepped left and right while standing in the driveway, and that Ardison was looking around as if he was searching for an escape route. Ardison kept placing the little girl between them, and Belanger could not engage him in conversation. Accordingly, based on his knowledge, training, and experience, Belanger became suspicious that Ardison was involved in criminal activity. Belanger testified that he knew at that point that they needed to pat Ardison down, ...


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