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State v. Piper

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 27, 2019


          Appealed from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Docket Number 04-15-0203 Honorable Michael R. Erwin, Judge Presiding

          Hillar C. Moore, III Dale R. Lee Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Appellee, State of Louisiana

          Meghan Harwell Bitoun New Orleans, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellant, Chaddrick Piper


          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         The defendant, Chaddrick Piper, was charged by bill of information with domestic abuse battery (involving strangulation) (count 1), a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:35.3(L); and home invasion (count 2), a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:62.8. The defendant pled not guilty and waived his right to a jury trial. Following a bench trial, the defendant was found guilty as charged on count 1; on count 2, he was found guilty of the responsive (lesser and included) offense of unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling, a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:62.3. See State v. Lattin, 51, 372 (La.App. 2nd Cir. 5/2/17), 219 So.3d 511, 512. The State subsequently filed a habitual offender bill of information. The defendant admitted to the allegations in the habitual offender bill. The defendant was adjudicated a third-felony habitual offender, and for the domestic abuse battery conviction, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment at hard labor, with the first two years of the sentence to be served without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. For the unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling conviction, he was sentenced to four years imprisonment at hard labor. The sentences were ordered to run consecutively. The defendant now appeals, designating five assignments of error. For the following reasons, we affirm the convictions, vacate the habitual offender adjudication and sentences, and remand to the trial court for resentencing.


         Breah Monday and the defendant had an on-and-off relationship for several years. They had one son together. In 2013 and 2014, while living together in Baton Rouge, the defendant and Breah were involved in several altercations, wherein the defendant physically attacked Breah. In October of 2013, the defendant was arrested and charged with domestic abuse battery (involving strangulation) of Breah. In April of 2014, Breah obtained a protective order against the defendant. In December of 2014, the defendant was again arrested for domestic abuse battery of Breah, as well as violation of a protective order. He pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to incarceration.

         While the defendant was incarcerated, Breah married another man. On February 3, 2015, the defendant was released from jail. The defendant's mother picked up the defendant and brought him to South Harrells Ferry Road to an apartment that he and Breah had shared to retrieve his belongings. Breah was home alone when the defendant arrived and rang the doorbell. Before she could answer, the defendant walked in, closed the door and locked it. The defendant asked Breah about the other man, and they began arguing. The defendant made Breah go to the bathroom and run water in the bathtub. With water in the tub, the defendant pushed Breah in (with her back facing the water) and held her down. Breah hit and kicked the defendant, and he eventually pulled her out of the tub. They continued to struggle. The defendant began choking Breah, and she lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness, she changed her clothes, and she tried to get out of the apartment. However, the defendant stopped her, slapped her head and punched her in the face. The defendant's mother came into the apartment, and he stopped attacking Breah. All three of them gathered the defendant's belongings, including clothes and two televisions, and brought them to the defendant's mother's vehicle. After the defendant left with his mother, Breah called the police and made a written statement.

         The defendant testified at trial. The defendant testified that Breah invited him into the apartment. He also denied that he held her underwater in the bathtub or that he choked her.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR NOS. 1 and 2

         In these related assignments of error, the defendant argues, respectively, the trial court's failure to hold a Prieur[1] hearing violated due process; and the trial court erred in considering evidence of prior crimes.

         Prior to trial, the State filed notice of intent to introduce evidence of other crimes, bad acts, or wrongs, pursuant to LSA-C.E. art. 404(B). According to the State, the defendant previously committed similar crimes or acts that show that the defendant had engaged in a pattern of volatile behavior with his family or partner. The State provided the following four instances of other acts. On October 18, 2013, the defendant was taken into custody and charged with domestic abuse battery (by strangulation) of Breah. On November 22, 2013, the defendant was taken into custody and charged with domestic abuse battery of Breah. On November 26, 2013, despite Breah relocating to avoid the defendant, the defendant found her at her new location, pulled her outside of the apartment, and attempted to get Breah to leave the complex with him. Breah refused to leave, and the police were called. On April 24, 2014, the defendant again attacked Breah. The defendant was handcuffed and taken to the parish prison.

         In the first assignment of error, the defendant argues in brief that the trial court erred in failing to conduct a pretrial Prieur hearing to determine the admissibility of the other crimes evidence. This other crimes evidence, according to the defendant, was weak and contained several "evidentiary holes." The defendant suggests trial testimony about these other crimes was highly prejudicial to him. In his second assignment of error, the defendant further contends that the trial court erred in considering the other crimes evidence because such evidence was not independently relevant to show motive, opportunity, knowledge, or absence of mistake. According to the defendant, the trial court failed to determine whether the evidence was relevant and whether its probative value was outweighed by unfair prejudice to him. See LSA-C.E. art. 403. The defendant suggests that the trial court seems to have accepted the State's assertion regarding the LSA-C.E. art. 404(B) evidence "without evaluation, confrontation, or testing."

         The State cannot introduce evidence of other crimes without first conducting a pretrial hearing at which it must prove the defendant committed the other crimes and that they are admissible under Article 404(B). State v. Taylor, 2016-1124 (La. 12/1/16), 217 So.3d 283, 292. However, not every violation of pretrial procedures (including Prieur violations) requires reversal, and before a defendant can complain of such a violation, he must show prejudice. State v. Sanders, 93-0001 (La. 11/30/94), 648 So.2d 1272, 1284, cert denied, 517 U.S. 1246, 116 S.Ct. 2504, 135 L.Ed.2d 194 (1996); State v. Pardon, 97-248 (La.App. 5th Cir. 10/15/97), 703 So.2d 50, 57, writ denied, 97-2892 (La. 3/20/98), 715 So.2d 1207.

         The defendant herein did not object to any of the other crimes evidence the State sought to offer. The defendant did not file a motion in limine or a motion to exclude the evidence, an answer to the State's notice of intent, or any motion whatsoever, to traverse the State's intent to use other crimes evidence at trial. In his motion for discovery filed April 23, 2015, the defendant requested notice of the State's intention to use other crimes evidence and for a hearing on the admissibility of the evidence. Five months later on September 25, 2015 (about four and one-half months before trial), the State filed its LSA-C.E. 404(B) notice of intent. There is nothing in the record before us that indicates a Prieur hearing was held. If such a hearing was not held, the defendant made no objection to this on the record. The only indication that the other crimes evidence was considered pretrial was the trial court's following statement at the beginning of trial, "From reading the motions, I'm going to allow the evidence to come in." The defendant lodged no objection to this.

         At trial, the defendant made no objections during the testimony as to the incidents constituting the other crimes evidence, except one. When Breah was asked about one of the incidents in November between her and the defendant, she provided a somewhat wandering narrative, to which defense counsel objected, stating: "Judge, at this time I have to object. The reason I'm objecting, we've kind of covered the issue about the 404, and I've allowed her to kind of get into it a little bit. But, I mean, to me, she's kind of drawing it out." As indicated, counsel's stated basis for objecting to Breah's testimony was limited to her verbosity in "drawing it out." Defense counsel did not object to the other crimes evidence on the grounds articulated on appeal, namely that the State failed to provide sufficient proof of the other crimes and that the evidence was unduly prejudicial.

         To preserve the right to appeal the introduction of testimony, the defendant must make a timely objection and state the specific grounds of objection. LSA-C.E. art. 103(A)(1); LSA-C.Cr.P. 841; State v. Sosa, 328 So.2d 889, 892 (La. 1976); State v. Dilosa, 2001-0024 (La.App. 1st Cir. 5/9/03), 849 So.2d 657, 671, writ denied, 2003-1601 (La. 12/12/03), 860 So.2d 1153. A defendant is limited on appeal to the grounds for the objection that were articulated at trial. State v. West, 419 So.2d 868, 876 (La. 1982); State v. Patton, 2010-1841 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/10/11), 68 So.3d 1209, 1216. Thus, the defendant is barred procedurally from advancing these assignments of error. See State v. Wisinger, 618 So.2d 923, 927 (La.App. 1st Cir.), writ denied, 625 So.2d. 1063 (La. 1993).

         The lack of any motions or contemporaneous objections notwithstanding, we find that the other crimes evidence was clearly admissible and not unduly prejudicial to the defendant. Louisiana Code of Evidence article 404(B)(1) provides:

Except as provided in Article 412, evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident, provided that upon request by the accused, the prosecution in a criminal case shall provide reasonable notice in advance of trial, of the nature of any such evidence it intends to introduce at trial for such purposes, or when it relates to conduct that constitutes an integral part of the act or transaction that is the subject of the present proceeding.

         Generally, evidence of criminal offenses other than the offense being tried is inadmissible as substantive evidence because of the substantial risk of grave prejudice to the defendant. In order to avoid the unfair inference that a defendant committed a particular crime simply because he is a person of criminal character, other crimes evidence is inadmissible unless it has an independent relevancy besides simply showing a criminal disposition. State v. Lockett, 99-0917 (La.App. 1st Cir. 2/18/00), 754 So.2d 1128, 1130, writ denied, 2000-1261 (La. 3/9/01), 786 So.2d 115. The trial court's ruling on the admissibility of other crimes evidence will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion. See State v. Galliano, 2002-2849 (La. 1/10/03), 839 So.2d 932, 934 (per curiam). When seeking to ...

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