Articles Posted in Criminal Matter

building-in-city-against-sky-256490-1-977x1024Domestic abuse is a global issue that requires the services of excellent lawyers and even better judges to sort out the myriad of problems that arise in each domestic violence case. The justice system must use all of the tools at its disposal to try to protect victims from their tormentors while also sorting through murky and disturbing factual scenarios. The facts of these cases often make assigning blame difficult. The case of Yulia Sirenko and Martin Munger demonstrates the convoluted issues that arise in such disputes. 

It is a tragic tale that begins in Moscow, moves through Dubai, and ultimately ends up in New Orleans in front of a trial judge tasked with determining who is at fault, who is in danger, and what remedies are necessary to stop the cycle of violence that has enveloped a family that includes young children. Mr. Munger and Ms. Sirenko, a married couple, got into a fight one night in their New Orleans home. The fight left Mr. Munger with a bleeding bite on his chest. He went to an urgent care facility, called a lawyer who advised him to obtain a protective order, and then called the police. Ms. Sirenko was subsequently arrested and spent 20 days in jail. At trial, both Mr. Munger and Ms. Sirenko sought protective orders against each other. They both also sought custody of their young son. The trial court found Ms. Sirenko’s account of a pattern of abuse by Mr. Munger to be credible and granted her a protective order against him. Mr. Munger was prohibited from contacting her except in very specific circumstances relating to their son. The trial court also awarded joint custody, but with Ms. Sirenko being designated as the primary custodian. Mr. Munger’s request for a protection order, on the other hand, was denied based on the trial court’s finding that he did not meet the necessary criteria due to its determination that he was the aggressor. Mr. Munger appealed this ruling, arguing that the trial court’s credibility finding was erroneous. He argued that Ms. Sirenko was not a credible witness and that a protective order in her favor was not warranted. He also argued that the trial court erred in dismissing his petition for a protective order. The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, however, rejected his assertions of error and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. It based this finding on the great deference owed to a trial court in credibility determinations and evidence examination. It found that the trial court did not err in determining that Ms. Sirenko’s account of abuse was credible.

The Court of Appeal stressed that “[i]n matters of credibility, an appellate court gives great deference to the findings of the trier of fact.” Franz v. First Bank Sys., Inc., 868 So.2d 155 (La. Ct. App. 2004). This deference is owed due to the fact that the trial court gets to examine the witnesses as they are giving testimony. It gets to look at the evidence first hand. It has the best view of the evidence and “the demeanor and mannerisms of the witnesses.” The Court of Appeal simply has the record created at trial upon which it can base its rulings. Particularly in cases where conflicting testimony exists, “reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed…” Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. And Development, 617 So.2d 880 (La. 1993). Thus, the Court of Appeal will defer to these determinations unless the determination clearly goes against the evidence presented. There was no indication of such an erroneous ruling here. The Court of Appeal pointed out how thoroughly the trial court examined the evidence and compared it with the testimony of the witnesses. The evidence of bruises and other injuries, documented in photographs, lined up with Ms. Sirenko’s testimony. The trial judge clearly explained how the evidence was linked together with that testimony. Thus, the Court of Appeal found no error in the granting of a protective order to Ms. Sirenko under Louisiana’s Domestic Abuse Assistance Act. La. R.S. 46:2131. The Court of Appeal also upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss Mr. Munger’s protective order. The trial judge determined that Mr. Munger was the aggressor and the evidence supported that determination. Once again, the Court of Appeal deferred to the trial court’s analysis of the evidence.

24A 2016 case demonstrated the importance of making sure our universities remain safe and secure. While one would like to think our schools would be free from the dangers of larger society, Tulane learned the necessity of vigilance.

While a student at Tulane University, the Plaintiff, Stephanie Boyd, shared a dorm suite with shared bathroom. One of her suitemates guests, Defendant Andrew Cebalo, took advantage of the shared bathroom to sneak into Stephanie’s bedroom at night and molest her.

In the initial trial, Ms. Boyd alleged Tulane University was negligent for failing to properly secure the premises, provide safe housing, and comply with industry standards regarding door locks and security. In response, Tulane filed an exception of no cause of action. Boyd filed an opposition to the exception of no cause of action, and an amended and supplemental petition alleging a failure to implement measures protecting students from foreseeable criminal harm. The trial court sided with Tulane, and dismissed the case with prejudice (meaning the lawsuit could not be filed again in the future).

45-Photo-4_2_19This case drives home the important reality that sometimes the justice system punishes innocent people, but also shows that in the end true justice can prevail.

Plaintiff-Appellee Darrin Hill was accused of being a rapist and kidnapper, but turned out to be a victim of the criminal justice system rather than a criminal needing justice, as DNA exonerated him nearly 20 years later. So, what can happen next after DNA exonerates you from a crime?

In the 1990s, a couple (names redacted for privacy) was assaulted. The boyfriend was forced off at gunpoint and the girlfriend brutally raped. With little evidence at the time, the police relied solely on an unknown notebook left in her car that included the name “Darrin Hill” and an address. While the address itself was unoccupied, police now know that the adjoining apartment was being rented out by the sister of who is now known to be the real rapist. The Detective had canvas the area around the apartment which included a car that matched the getaway car from the day of the crime, but did nothing with this information.

A recent case arising from occurrences in West Carroll Hospital considers the Louisiana and federal antidumping laws. In addition, it also explains the requirements for a case under medical malpractice. Several hospitals were involved in the case, but only two were actually involved in the suit. A woman who had serious kidney and urinary problems was admitted to West Carroll Hospital; however, once the hospital realized that they did not have the specialized equipment to treat her, they desperately tried to find somewhere to transfer her that did have the ability to help her. After several days of miscommunications, the woman died because they could not transfer her fast enough to address her medical issues. Her six daughters then attempted to find some kind of remedy against the hospitals for the wrongful death of their mother.

In Louisiana, La. R.S. 40:2113.4-2113.6, the “antidumping law,” requires hospitals to take patients who need emergency services and live in the territorial area regardless of whether they are able to pay for their care or if they have insurance. Federal law has the same type of requirement under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act even specifies that hospitals cannot turn away patients who have Medicare or Medicaid, and hospitals cannot discriminate based on race, religion, economic status, or national ancestry.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act further defines “emergency” as a “physical condition which the person in imminent danger of death or permanent disability.” The definition of “emergency services,” then, is “those services which are available in the emergency room and surgical units in order to sustain the person’s life and prevent disablement until the person is in a condition to travel.” Louisiana law requires that the patient be stabilized before they are moved to another facility. However, the Louisiana antidumping law does not permit a private cause of action. That is, an individual cannot sue the hospital for a violation of this law. Even if they could, however, the first hospital, West Carroll, admitted her without incident, so there would be no claim under the antidumping law.

It is vital to know proper court procedures at the outset of litigation or else an otherwise valid claim might be thrown out of court without ever being heard. One prime example is the need to send initial court documents to a defendant within a set deadline (sending such documents, such as a citation or summons, is known as service of process). Case in point, the Lafayette Parish Court of Appeal, in Boka v. Oller, recently upheld the dismissal of a claim without even considering the merits because service of process was delivered too late. Therefore, it is important to know the rules before bringing a lawsuit or a good claim might be lost due to a mere technicality, such as delivering papers too late. For a non-lawyer, an attorney can be instrumental in making sure proper procedures are followed so that the party has a chance to present their case in court.

In Lafayette Parish, Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1201 requires that service of the citation must be requested within a deadline of ninety days from commencement of the action. Article 1201 also notes that service of process on defendants is “essential” and “without them all proceedings are absolutely null.” The deadline for service is to ensure that defendants are aware of an action and have enough to prepare. Therefore, as a delay in service is deemed unfair to the defendant, a court may dismiss a claim if service of process is sent too late.

There are some limited exceptions to the rule, but, due to the risks involved in these exceptions, generally a party should attempt to serve process on time. For example, one exception permits late service if there is good cause for the delay. However, as the court is unlikely to accept run-of-the-mill excuses for delays, proving a good cause for failure to serve process on time can be difficult. As noted below, the court in Lafayette Parish found that there was no good cause for late service as the plaintiff knew the defendant’s address.

There is no general duty for a business to protect customers from third party attackers. If someone attacks you outside of a store, for example, the store is usually not responsible for the injuries or damages that occur because of that attack. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana explained this concept in a case that originated in Alexandria City Court.

In June 2009, a woman and her mother were attending a bingo fundraising event for the local school football team. They arrived a little late and were attacked outside of the building where the bingo was being held. The assailant took the women’s purses and attempted to get away in the women’s car. The car headed toward a group of pedestrians at high speed in its getaway attempt.

Fortunately, the security guard rushed outside when he heard what was going on. He shot at the wheels of the vehicle, forcing it to stop before it reached the group of pedestrians. He arrested the attacker and sent him to jail. One of the women, however, injured her leg when the attacker struck it with the car as he was trying to escape.

If you have ever been selected to serve as a juror, you know that the jury’s job in a trial is to hear the facts and arguments presented by both parties to a case and to make an informed judgment based on the evidence. In criminal cases, the jury is asked to assess the state or federal government’s case against the defendant and determine his guilt or innocence. In civil cases, the jury evaluates a dispute between two parties, and determines whether one party must compensate the other for damages caused.

Before a civil lawsuit reaches the trial stage, either party to the case may file a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is when the court dismisses the case and rules in favor of the moving party (the party making the motion), on the grounds that there were no triable issues of material fact presented. “No triable issues” means that all reasonable-minded persons would come to the same conclusion after weighing the evidence presented.

A verdict for summary judgment can be hard to overcome on an appeal, as the court will be reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the appeal. Additionally, Louisiana legislature expressly favors the summary judgment procedure, as it saves the time and cost of a jury trial. Nonetheless, there are certain types of cases that by their nature should not be settled by summary judgment. An example of such a case would be Bryan and Madison Manis’ wrongful death lawsuit, in which the Louisiana Fifth Circuit of Appeal overruled a verdict for summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

After you have been in a terrible accident or lost a loved one, especially when the accident or death was caused by the negligence of someone else, you probably want justice. The outrage, the pain, and the sense of loss are too much to bear, and you want someone to pay for what was done. You want to be made as whole as possible. But what if the evidence that would allow that justice to come to pass has been ruined? And what if it was the allegedly guilty party who destroyed it? This intentional destruction of evidence primarily for the purpose of depriving the opposing party of its use is known as spoliation of evidence.

While a party might assume that spoliation of evidence has occurred, mere allegations will not get you far, and actually proving that spoliation of evidence has occurred can be much harder than you might think. In the state of Louisiana, there are several rules and standards with regard to how a party must prove that such spoliation of evidence actually occurred. First of all, merely accusing someone of negligently destroying evidence is not enough to prove spoliation of evidence. The standard is much higher than that. The plaintiff actually has to prove that the evidence was intentionally destroyed, and it can be quite difficult to prove the intentions of one’s actions.

If a party fails to produce evidence within his or her reach, there is a presumption that the evidence would have been detrimental to the case; however, it is still essential to prove that the evidence was intentionally destroyed. Furthermore, the defendant has a duty to preserve evidence. This duty arises because of the foreseeability of needing that evidence in the future. If there is no ability to foresee the need for that evidence in the future, though, the duty does not exist.

The following is a case in which the plaintiff, Nolan J. Benson, Sr., is representing himself. In legalese, he would be referred to as a plaintiff ‘in proper person’, or more commonly, as a pro se plaintiff.

Sometimes, plaintiffs cannot obtain attorneys to represent them, either because the plaintiff cannot afford an attorney, chooses not to hire an attorney, or the attorney chooses not to take on the plaintiff’s case. If the plaintiff still wishes to continue litigating his case, he may do so without the aid of an attorney. Usually, plaintiffs do not win these cases either because they do not follow proper protocol/ procedure or they do not conduct themselves ethically.

In this case, Nolan J. Benson was allegedly involved in some sort of quarrel with the deputies of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office who had just arrested, or were in the process of arresting, Mr. Benson’s son. Exactly one year after that alleged incident, Mr. Benson, Sr., filed a petition in proper person, complaining that he had been wrongfully arrested, detained, and tased during the quarrel with the deputies of the Sheriff’s Office.

In a recent case, Johnson v. University Medical Center in Lafayette, the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit reversed a trial court decision to dismiss a plaintiff’s case for abandonment due to her failure to timely pay the costs of appeal. The plaintiff in the case, Lela Johnson, originally filed a medical malpractice action against both the University Medical Center in Lafayette and the Medical Center of Louisiana in New Orleans. The case has proceeded through courts since the original petition for damages was filed on March 15, 2006.

Both defendants, whose principal places of business correspond with the last word of their names, are operated by the State of Louisiana. After a dismissal of her original suit by the Supreme Court of Louisiana due to her failure to properly notify the defendants of the action because she had requested service of process on individuals who had not been individuals who were authorized to accept such information on behalf of the defendants, Ms. Johnson’s decided to re-file the original suit in trial court. Once again, Ms. Johnson’s service of process was held insufficient by the trial court and she moved to appeal that judgment.

Service of process is a legal term of art which essentially describes the process in which plaintiffs notify defendants of a pending suit. When the plaintiff files a complaint with a court, any defendant in the case must be given notice of the pending case and an opportunity to be heard and defend themselves against the complaint. This requirement is a basic constitutional right conferred upon everyone who has been accused of some wrongdoing and it is the accuser’s responsibility to ensure that the constitutional right of the accused is protected. The importance of service of process to our legal system and the rights of defendants makes it necessary for trial courts to dismiss actions, without regard to the merits of the plaintiff’s claims, if service of process is deficient in some way or another.

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