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Date: 06-10-2024

Case Style:

State Of Louisiana VS Michael Steven White

Case Number:

Judge: Not Available


Plaintiff's Attorney: Andrew B. Joyner Matthew Caplan Assistant District Attorneys

J. Collin Sims District Attorney

Defendant's Attorney:

Click Here For The Best Baton Rouge Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory


Baton Rouge, Louisiana criminal defense lawyer represented the Defendant charged with six counts of simple burglary

On July 18, 2022, at approximately 10:38 p.m., Deputy Tristan Wenturine
Deputy Wenturine") ofthe St. Tammany Parish Sheriffs Office Criminal Patrol
Division responded to a call concerning a suspicious person located at J& J Auto
Brokers (" J& J"), a used vehicle dealership, in Slidell, Louisiana. Upon his arrival,
Deputy Wenturine noticed a male (later identified as the defendant) standing next
to a vehicle, which was backed into a small driveway facing the highway in a
poorly lit area. Deputy Wenturine also noted J& J, given the time of day, was
closed for business. Upon approaching the defendant, Deputy Wenturine observed
wiring and miscellaneous stuff'' in the back of the defendant's vehicle, which
based on his past experience was consistent with "people that are going through or
ripping out car parts and things like that." However, Deputy Wenturine was unable
to confirm whether any ofthose items were stolen. He further observed that the
back hatch and rear door of the defendant's vehicle were open. When Deputy
Wenturine scanned the area with his flashlight, he also observed that the doors of
multiple vehicles in the car lot were open. When he inquired why the defendant
was looking at cars, the defendant replied that he was "[ s ]eeing ifhe [ could] use
anything to strip or buy, flip, and sell." Later, the defendant admitted to Deputy
Wenturine that he did, in fact, open the vehicles' doors but claimed he was looking
for a replacement vehicle for his mother.

Deputy John Thornhill (" Deputy Thornhill") of the St. Tammany Parish
Sheriff's Office also responded to J& J following a report of subjects " going
through vehicles" at J& J. Upon his arrival at J& J, Deputy Thornhill contacted his
partner, Deputy Wenturine, who had the defendant in custody. Deputy Thornhill
also observed the " miscellaneous wiring" located in the defendant's vehicle.
Deputy Thornhill then identified and observed six vehicles whose doors and/or
engine compartments were open upon his arrival to J& J: a silver Lexus sedan, a
silver Volkswagen sedan, a beige Chevrolet Silverado truck, a red Ford truck, a
white Suzuki sedan, and a white Dodge Ram truck. At trial, Deputy Thornhill
specifically testified that it did not appear that the Lexus or Volkswagen, other than
having the doors open, had been tampered with. As to the Dodge Ram truck, the
doors were opened and Deputy Thornhill noted it appeared to have been tampered
with orhad pieces removed, but did not describe how it had been tampered with or
what was missing. As to the Suzuki sedan, the doors and engine compartment hood
were open, and Deputy Thornhill believed it had been tampered with, as the radio
was missing. Deputy Thornhill also observed the Ford truck, with both doors open,
and at the driver's side door, he saw a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes on the
ground. Though Deputy Thornhill found Lucky Strike cigarettes in the defendant's
vehicle and was told by the defendant that he smoked said cigarettes, Deputy
Thornhill did not observe any damage to the interior of the Ford truck. Lastly,
Deputy Thornhill observed the Chevrolet truck, with doors open, and he testified
the radio and "head unit" were missing.

Norman Ducre ("Ducre"), the owner ofJ& J, testified that when leaving J& J
for the day, he typically left the vehciles' doors unlocked. According to Ducre, he
left the doors unlocked to prevent further expense from individuals breaking the
vehicles' windows to then burglarize them. On the night ofthe alleged burglaries,

Ducre left the car lot around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m., went home, and then went to play
pool. While he was playing pool, he received a phone call from a friend saying he
had " seen somebody in one ofthe cars." Upon receiving the information from his
friend, Ducre called law enforcement and drove to J& J. While waiting for law
enforcement's arrival, Ducre noticed the engine compartment of one of his
vehicles was open and an interior light was on. More specifically, upon his arrival
to J&J, Ducre observed " someone in one of [his] cars[.]" Though Ducre did not
identify which vehicle the defendant was allegedly in, he testified he did not leave
J& J that day with the vehicles' doors and/or engine compartments open.

Additionally, Ducre stated he had never met the defendant and did not give him, or
anyone else, permission to be at J& J, or otherwise look through the vehicles, on the
night in question. While it is possible for individuals to stop at J& J after hours to
look at cars on the lot, Ducre testified it was not normal for people to be there as
late as 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Moreover, even if individuals are at J& J after hours,
Ducre believed it is not common thatthe individual would open the doors and look
into the vehicles' compartments.

Lieutenant Devon Coulon ("Lieutenant Coulon") ofthe St. Tammany Parish
Sheriffs Office testified that he was the shift supervisor on the night ofthe alleged
burglaries, and he responded to J& J along with Deputy Wenturine and Deputy
Thornhill. Upon Lieutenant Coulon's arrival, he spoke with the defendant, who
admitted to opening the doors ofa Volkswagen vehicle but stated that he intended
to close them. At trial, Lieutenant Coulon also provided testimony that the
defendant indicated he was working in conjunction with his cousin on the night of
the alleged burglaries. However, further investigation did not indicate that the
defendant and his cousin were working together that night.

Linda Henley (" Henley"), the defendant's mother, testified that following
the defendant's return from imprisonment, the two lived together, with the
defendant employed as a mechanic, reassembling and refurbishing automotive
parts salvaged from junkyards. Though Henley initially testified it would be
abnormal for the defendant to have " wiring and other things in his vehicle[,]"
Henley later stated it was common for the defendant to have various items, tools,
and wires in the back ofhis vehicle, as " most ofthe time he had some wiring in
there[,]" he "[ p ]robably" had wiring in the back ofhis vehicle on the night ofthe
alleged burglary, and that the defendant would normally " pick[] up wiring."
Further, when shown a picture ofthe "big ball ofwiring" found in the back ofthe
defendant's vehicle, Henley could not identify it. Additionally, because ofdamage
sustained during Hurricane Ida, Henley stated one of her two vehicles became
inoperable, and she and the defendant were in the process of looking for a
replacement, often driving to various car lots on the weekends to inspect and
identify potential options. Henley testified it was normal for the defendant to stop
at a car lot late at night. She further stated that the defendant " would open the
doors and he would check inside and smell it" to determine whether she would be
sensitive to the interior conditions, as he knew Henley needed a vehicle without
any smoke or mold damage, due to her asthma. Henley also noted the two would
sometimes visit businesses that were closed for the day, would "open the doors[,]
and] peek inside[.]" Additionally, Henley testified the defendant, in the process of
identifying a new vehicle for her, would open the engine compartment hoods, but
that she was not present with the defendant on the night ofthe alleged burglaries.

Lastly, Jennifer Seacrest (" Seacrest"), the defendant's girlfriend, testified
that she believed the defendant was in search of a replacement vehicle for his
mother at the time ofthe alleged burglaries. However, Seacrest was not present at
J& J onthe night in question.


In his first assignment oferror, the defendant argues the evidence presented
at trial was insufficient to support his convictions for simple burglary. Specifically,
though the defendant admits to his identity and that he opened the doors of
vehicles and the hood of one vehicle, he argues the State nevertheless failed to
meet its burden ofproving he entered the interior of the vehicles following his
opening ofthem. He avers "[ t]here was no evidence that [he] entered the enclosed
interior ofthe vehicles. He simply opened the car doors and hood ofone vehicle.
With no proof that [ he] entered the vehicles after he opened the car doors and
hood, the State failed to meet its burden of proving an essential element of the
crime." The defendant's argument on appeal is strictly limited to the " entry"
element of simple burglary. Thus, our review is limited to the sufficiency ofthe
evidence concerning the "entry" element ofsimple burglary. 4

A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand, as it violates due
process. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV, La. Const. art. I, ยง 2. In reviewing claims
challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, an appellate court must determine
whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements ofthe
crime and the defendant's identity proven beyond a reasonable doubt based on the
entirety ofthe evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. See
Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560
1979); State v. Oliphant, 2013-2973 (La. 2/21/14), 133 So. 3d 1255, 1258-59 (per
curiam); see also La. C.Cr.P. art. 821(B).

When analyzing circumstantial evidence, La. R.S. 15:438 provides that the
factfinder must be satisfied the overall evidence excludes every reasonable
hypothesis ofinnocence. Oliphant, 133 So. 3d at 1258; State v. Dunn, 2021-0630
La. App. pt Cir. 12/22/21), 340 So. 3d 77, 83-84, writ denied, 2022-00095 ( La.
4/5/22), 335 So. 3d 834. This is not a separate test that applies instead of a
sufficiency ofthe evidence test when circumstantial evidence forms the basis ofthe
conviction. Rather, all of the evidence, both direct and circumstantial, must be
sufficient under Jackson to convince a rational juror the defendant is guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt. State v. Dorsey. 2010-0216 (La. 9/7/11), 74 So. 3d 603, 633.

The Jackson standard does not require the reviewing court to determine
whether it believes the witnesses or whether it believes the evidence establishes
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Mire, 2014-2295 (La. 1/27/16), 269 So.
3d 698, 703 ( per curiam). Rather, appellate review is limited to determining
whether the facts established by the direct evidence and inferred from the
circumstances established by that evidence are sufficient for any rational trier of
fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty ofevery
essential element of the crime. State v. Gardner, 2016-0192 ( La. App. pt Cir.
9/19/16), 204 So. 3d 265, 267. The weight given evidence is not subject to
appellate review; therefore, an appellate court will not reweigh evidence to
overturn a factfinder' s determination ofguilt. State v. Livous, 2018-0016 (La. App.
pt Cir. 9/24/18), 259 So. 3d 1036, 1040, writ denied, 2018-1788 (La. 4/15/19), 267
So. 3d 1130.

Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:62(A) defines simple burglary, in pertinent
part, as the " unauthorized entering of any dwelling, vehicle, watercraft, or other
structure, movable or immovable, or any cemetery, with the intent to commit a
felony or any theft therein[.]" Simple burglary requires specific intent, which is
that state ofmind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender
actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to
act." La. R.S. 14:10(1). Such a state ofmind can be formed in an instant and need
not be proven as a fact but may be inferred from the circumstances of the
transaction and the actions of the offender. State in Interest of D.T., 2019-1284
La. App. pt Cir. 2/21/20), 2020 WL 862311, at * 2 (unpublished). Specific intent
may be established by circumstantial evidence alone ifevery reasonable hypothesis
ofinnocence is excluded. State v. Cousan, 94-2503 (La. 11/25/96), 684 So. 2d 382,

Additionally, the "entry" element ofthe crime ofsimple burglary is satisfied
when there is evidence that any part of the defendant's person intrudes, even
momentarily, into the vehicle. State in Interest ofP.M., 2015-0834 (La. App. 4th
Cir. 12/16/15), 186 So. 3d 693,695, writ denied, 2015-2327 (La. 3/14/16), 189 So.
3d 1072. There is no requirement that "entry" be "into a part ofthe vehicle capable
ofor designed to accommodate a person." State v. Pierre, 320 So. 2d 185, 188 (La.
1975) (" It is sufficient ifthe entry into the vehicle is accomplished, as in this case,
by opening the hood and stealing the battery from the engine compartment."); cf.
State v. Bickham, 2018-1006 (La. App. 1st Cir. 11/15/19), 2019 WL 6044319 at *3
unpublished) ( defendant " digging through" motorcycle saddlebags does not
satisfy the " entry" requirement of simple burglary, as saddlebags are not integral
parts to the interior of a motorcycle). Lastly, it is not necessary for a simple
burglary conviction that an actual theft occur. State in Interest ofE.M., 2022-0307
La. App. 1st Cir. 9/16/22), 2022 WL 4285936, * 3 ( unpublished).

After a thorough review ofthe record, we find that a rational trier offact,
viewing the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the State,
could find the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and to the exclusion of
every reasonable hypothesis of innocence, that the defendant entered the six
identified vehicles located at J& J on the night in question. While observing the
defendant at J& J prior to law enforcement's arrival, Ducre affirmatively stated he
saw the "engine and the car open light on" as well as the defendant in one ofhis
vehicles. Ducre stated he did not leave any vehicle doors and/or engine hoods open
prior to leaving for the day. Upon law enforcement's arrival, they observed six
vehicles whose doors and/or engine hoods were open. Further, when initially
questioned by Deputy Wenturine concerning his actions, the defendant admitted to
s]eeing ifhe [ could] use anything to strip or buy, flip, [or] sell." Moreover, the
defendant admitted to Lieutenant Coulon that he opened some ofthe vehicle doors,
and the Lucky Strike cigarettes found on the ground near other vehicles matched
the same cigarettes found in the defendant's vehicle.

Additionally, the jury can accept or reject the testimony ofany witness. To
resolve conflicting testimony relative to factual matters, the jury must make
credibility determinations and weigh the evidence. See Mire, 269 So. 3d at 700-01;
State v. Eby, 2017-1456 ( La. App. 1st Cir. 4/6/16), 248 So. 3d 420, 426, writ
denied, 2018-0762 ( La. 2/11/19), 263 So. 3d 1153. In the absence of internal
contradiction or irreconcilable conflict with the physical evidence, one witness's
testimony, if believed by the jury, is sufficient to support a factual conclusion.
State v. Dorsey, 2010-0216 (La. 9/7/11), 74 So. 3d 603, 634, cert. denied, 566 U.S.
930, 132 S. Ct. 1859, 182 L. Ed. 2d 658 (2012).

Accordingly, in reviewing the evidence presented at trial, we cannot say the
jury's determination that the defendant was guilty ofsix counts ofsimple burglary
was irrational under the facts and circumstances presented. An appellate court errs
by substituting its appreciation ofthe evidence and credibility ofwitnesses for that
ofthe factfinder and thereby overturning a verdict on the basis ofan exculpatory
hypothesis ofinnocence presented to, and rationally rejected by, the jury. See State
v. Calloway, 2007-2306 ( La. 1/21/09), 1 So. 3d 417, 418 ( per curiam). To
otherwise accept a hypothesis ofinnocence that was not unreasonably rejected by
the factfinder, a court of appeal impinges on a factfinder's discretion beyond the
extent necessary to guarantee the fundamental protection of due process of law.
See Mire, 269 So. 3d at 703. Accordingly, this assignment oferror lacks merit.


In his second assignment oferror, the defendant argues an " error patent" is
present on the face ofthe pleadings; that is, the verdict form presented to the jury
did not contain a "not guilty" responsive verdict. See La. C.Cr.P. art. 814(A)(50).5
As such, the defendant contends this omission constitutes reversible error. The
defendant is correct in pointing out the deficiency in the verdict form, which
contains the following responsive verdicts: "Guilty ofSimple Burglary," "Guilty of
5 Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 814(A)(50) provides the following
responsive verdicts for simple burglary: " Guilty[,]" " Guilty of attempted simple burglary[,]"
Guilty ofunauthorized entry ofa place ofbusiness[,]" " Guilty ofattempted unauthorized entry
of a place of business[,]" and " Not guilty." The verdict form did not contain the responsive
verdicts of "Guilty of unauthorized entry of a place of business," " Guilty of attempted
unauthorized entry ofa place ofbusiness," and "Not guilty.

Attempted Simple Burglary," and " Guilty." The verdict form does not contain a
responsive verdict of"Not Guilty" as required by La. C.Cr.P. art. 814.
Louisiana Code ofCriminal Procedure article 920(2) notes an error patent as
a]n error that is discoverable by a mere inspection of the pleadings and
proceedings and without inspection of the evidence." Generally, however, any
alleged error concerning the sufficiency ofthe list ofresponsive verdicts given the
jury is not reviewable under Article 920(2) and may not be considered unless
objection is made in the trial court in time for the trial judge to correct the error.
State v. Craddock, 307 So. 2d 342 (La. 1975); see also State v. Hanson, 41,195
La. App. 2nd Cir. 8/23/06), 938 So. 2d 1147, 1152, writ denied, 2006-2318 (La.
4/20/07), 954 So. 2d 158 ( omission of responsive verdicts of simple rape and
attempted simple rape from verdict form not reviewable under Article 920(2));
State v. Williams, 2017-0585 ( La. App. l81 Cir. 11/16/17), 236 So. 3d 604, 607
Jury charges are beyond the permissible scope of review under [ Article]

In Craddock, the court noted that absent an objection, a defendant may not
on appeal complain ofthe judge's charge to the jury, even though the charge may
happen to appear in the record. The court went on to hold that the alleged error
concerning the sufficiency of the list of responsive verdicts given the jury, like
error in the judge's charge to the jury, was not reviewable under Article 920(2) and
could not be considered unless an objection was made in the trial court in time for
the trial court to correct the error. Craddock, 307 So. 2d at 343.
Furthermore, La. C.Cr.P. art. 841 pertinently provides, "[ a]n irregularity or
error cannot be availed ofafter verdict unless it was objected to at the time ofthe
occurrence." The contemporaneous objection rule provides the trial court notice
and the opportunity to cure an alleged irregularity or error, and prevents a party
from gambling for a favorable outcome then appealing when the error could have
been addressed by an objection. The failure to make a contemporaneous objection
prior to the verdict waives the alleged error or irregularity and precludes the
defendant from raising it on appeal. State v. Thompkins, 2018-1032 (La. App. 1st
Cir. 2/27 /19), 273 So. 3d 346, 349-50, writ denied, 2019-00666 (La. 9/17 /19), 278
So. 3d 973; see also Williams, 236 So. 3d at 607.
However, despite the lack ofa contemporaneous objection, jury instructions
may be reviewed on appeal when the alleged error violates a fundamental due
process right and is therefore structural. See State v. McCasland, 2016-1178 (La.
App. 1st Cir. 4/18/17), 218 So. 3d 1119, 1129. Here, we note that while the verdict
form does not contain a responsive verdict of "Not Guilty," the trial court orally
instructed the jury that if they were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of
the defendant's guilt, they should return a not guilty verdict. Therefore, when
coupled with the trial court's oral instruction to the jury, the lack ofa "Not Guilty"
responsive verdict on the jury form was not structural and, as such, did not violate
fundamental requirements of due process. See Williams, 236 So. 3d at 607;
McCasland, 218 So. 3d at 1129. Accordingly, this assignment oferror lacks merit.
We have been unable to find where the omission of "Not Guilty" from a
verdict form has been reviewed by this court on appeal. The exclusion of "Not
Guilty" as an option on the verdict form is a particularly egregious omission which
we find troubling. Yet, the jurisprudential framework does not allow us to
distinguish this error from other charging errors smce no contemporaneous
objection was lodged. As a court ofappeal, we are bound to follow the decisions of
the Louisiana Supreme Court. The holding in Craddock is unequivocal. A different
interpretation of Craddock and its progeny, or a narrowing of the rule, is
necessarily left to the Louisiana Supreme Court.



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