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State v. Bryant

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 26, 2019


          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 327055 Honorable Brady D. O'Callaghan, Judge




          Before MOORE, COX, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          STEPHENS, J.

         This criminal appeal arises from the First Judicial District Court, Parish of Caddo, State of Louisiana. The defendant, Joseph M. Bryant, was charged by bill of information with attempted aggravated rape (violations of La. R.S. 14:27 and 14:42) and armed robbery (a violation of La. R.S. 14:64). Following a jury trial, Bryant was convicted as charged. He was adjudicated a third-felony offender and sentenced to serve life imprisonment without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Bryant now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the convictions for attempted aggravated rape and armed robbery; however, we vacate the habitual offender adjudication and sentence and remand the matter for resentencing.


         At the trial held on November 8, 2017, the following evidence was adduced. On the morning of August 22, 2014, the victim, SS, was home alone watching television when her doorbell rang.[1] SS looked through the peephole, and observed a tall, dark-skinned black male, wearing a baseball cap, holding a business card. The man, later identified as the defendant, Joseph M. Bryant, indicated that he worked for a tree service and inquired if SS desired service at her home. SS declined, but cracked the door open just enough to take the business card from Bryant. As she opened the door, Bryant put his foot in the threshold of the door. SS noted the perpetrator was much larger than she. Bryant asked SS if her husband was home. When she said no, Bryant forced his way into SS's home.

         Once inside the home, SS observed Bryant holding a pocketknife. Bryant ordered SS not to scream and told her, "I am going to rape you and kill you," a threat he repeatedly made during the assault. SS and Bryant walked from the entryway of her home, through the dining room, into the kitchen, and eventually ended up in the den. While in the den, Bryant threw SS onto the sofa and again informed her that he was going to rape her. While still armed with the pocketknife, Bryant then straddled SS, throwing both of his legs on the outside of both of SS's legs and untied her robe. SS was wearing only a robe, nightshirt, and underwear. After untying SS's robe, Bryant lifted up SS's nightshirt and touched her vagina on top of her underwear. Throughout the incident, SS continually pleaded for her life and Bryant repeatedly told SS that he planned to rape and kill her. While pleading for her life, SS offered Bryant her vehicle, money, and jewelry. Bryant became interested in the money and got off SS, at which point she wrapped her robe around herself. Bryant followed her to the master bedroom to retrieve her purse. The two went back into the den, where Bryant took $120 cash from SS. Somehow, with his knife still drawn, the two ended back up in the bedroom. For a second time, Bryant threw SS onto the bed and told her he would rape her. Bryant, again, untied SS's robe and straddled her-she could not move. SS made every effort to protect herself as she was being attacked.

         Suddenly, Bryant stopped, sat up on the bed, and instructed SS to fix her robe. He then began to tell SS that she was a nice person and told her that his daughter had recently been killed. Bryant became emotional and began to weep. At that point, Bryant got off the bed and the two went into the sunroom, through the den, into the entryway, and arrived at SS's front door. Bryant asked for a hug, SS relented, and Bryant exited the home. Having learned SS's first name at some point during the incident, Bryant called out to her from the other side of the door using her name. Bryant asked to reenter the home, and SS refused. Bryant then asked if SS intended to call the police and requested reentry a second time. Again, SS refused and eventually Bryant left. Afraid to call the police, SS called her husband, who then called police.

         Later, Bryant was apprehended in connection with other incidents and arrested. When SS was shown a six-person photographic lineup, she identified Bryant as the man who entered her home on the morning of August 22, 2014. SS additionally made an in-court identification of Bryant at his trial.

         Prior to trial, on June 3, 2015, Bryant's trial counsel made an oral motion for the appointment of a sanity commission. On September 14, 2015, after receiving reports from Dr. Marc Colon and Dr. George Seiden, the trial court found that Bryant lacked the ability to meet the legal criteria to assist in his own defense as required by State v. Bennett, 345 So.2d 1129 (La. 1977). Bryant was ordered to receive treatment at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System, Forensic Division in Jackson, Louisiana ("ELMHS"). The criminal proceedings were stayed pending Bryant's restoration to competency.

         On April 27, 2016, the staff psychiatrist at the ELMHS opined that Bryant had been restored to capacity. However, due to further concerns regarding his mental capacity, the trial court held the matter open pending a report from Bryant's medical providers. As a result, on May 31, 2016, a subsequent hearing was conducted, and Dr. Colon testified. After that testimony, the trial court determined that Bryant's competency was not regained, and the stay in his proceedings continued.

         On January 10, 2017, a final sanity hearing was held. The sanity commission was composed of Dr. Laura Brown and Dr. John Roberts, and both doctors opined that Bryant was malingering, or reporting severe symptoms that were likely not accurate. Dr. Roberts confirmed that Bryant's behavior when being evaluated differed from that of his behavior on the unit. Dr. Roberts further testified that it is difficult to know a patient's motivations and whether or not his motivation skews functioning. However, in this case, that consideration did not affect Bryant's restoration of competency.

         Accordingly, the trial court deemed Bryant competent to proceed to trial, which commenced on November 8, 2017. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the jury returned verdicts of guilty as charged of attempted aggravated rape and armed robbery. Notably, Bryant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence.

         A habitual offender hearing was held on January 4, 2018. Prior to the hearing, motions for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and new trial were denied by the trial court. John McCain, of the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office, testified to two prior felonies committed by Bryant which occurred in Texas, where he was tried. Bryant was previously convicted of robbery on October 31, 1994, and of sexual assault on the same date but for a completely unrelated incident. Based on those prior convictions, the trial court adjudicated Bryant a third-felony offender and sentencing was held on the same day. The trial court sentenced Bryant to life imprisonment without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Bryant subsequently filed a motion to reconsider sentence, which was denied, and this appeal ensued.


         Mental Capacity

         In his first assignment of error, Bryant contends the trial court erred in finding him competent to proceed to trial. Specifically, Bryant argues he was deprived of a fair trial when he was forced to proceed to trial while he was still incompetent and unable to assist his trial counsel in his defense. In response, the state submits that several qualified physicians found Bryant competent to stand trial, and they noted he was malingering to avoid having the case proceed to trial. Further, his actions during the crime indicated a calculated plan, that of a competent individual. We agree.

         Legal ...

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