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State v. Craft

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 26, 2015

STATE OF LOUISIANA, Appellee,
v.
ELTON CRAFT, Appellant

Page 540

Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Webster, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 87,345. Honorable Ford E. Stinson, Judge.

LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT, By: Paula Corley Marx, Counsel for Appellant.

JOHN SCHUYLER MARVIN, District Attorney, JOHN MICHAEL LAWRENCE, JOHN W. MONTGOMERY, MARCUS RAY PATILLO, Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.

Before BROWN, DREW and PITMAN, JJ.

OPINION

Page 541

[49,730 La.App. 2 Cir. 1] DREW, J.

Elton Craft entered guilty pleas to two counts of indecent behavior. La. R.S. 14:81. The two victims were eight and nine years old at the time of the crimes.

The trial court imposed consecutive sentences of 20 years at hard labor, with 10 years of each sentence to be served without benefits. The defendant alleges excessiveness in this sentence. We affirm, in all respects.

FACTS

Two bills of information were originally filed, each charging the defendant with indecent behavior with a juvenile. The acts occurred between January 1 and November 9, 2012. Both bills were later amended to add aggravated incest, a violation of La. R.S. 14:78.1(D)(2). In exchange for the dismissal of the aggravated incest charges, the defendant withdrew his former pleas, waived his Boykin rights, and entered a plea of guilty to each indecent behavior charge.[1]

The prosecutor's factual basis was that the defendant, more than two years older than each victim, committed lewd or lascivious acts upon one of the children, in the presence of the other child, with each child being under the age of 17, with the intention of arousing or gratifying the sexual desires of either person.

Page 542

Additional gruesome and undisputed facts were read into the record.[2]

[49,730 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] The factual basis was admitted by the defendant, and the trial court accepted each plea, ordering a presentence investigation.

At sentencing on April 25, 2014,[3] the judge referenced that:

o the facts in these cases were sordid;

o the defendant admitted touching the girls, but not sexually;

o he was a third-felony offender;

o he knew that his victims were vulnerable due to their youth;

o he used his status as grandfather to the victims to facilitate the crime;

o he threatened to kill them and the family if they told anyone;

o he suffered from emphysema and nerve damage;

o he began drinking alcohol at age 13; and

o he received mental health treatment in 2011.

[49,730 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] The defendant's criminal history is indeed extensive.[4]

The trial court sentenced the defendant as outlined before.[5]

Counsel for the defendant filed a motion to reconsider these sentences, arguing that

Page 543

the sentences imposed, although within statutory limits, appear excessive, merely punitive, and will not achieve any goals of rehabilitation. The motion for reconsideration was denied.

EXCESSIVENESS

In his sole assignment of error, the defendant contends that his sentence is excessive for the following reasons:

o he is a 52-year-old with health problems;
o societal goals can be met with a shorter term of incarceration;
o he will be 72 years old at the time of his parole eligibility;
o he has emphysema and nerve damage;
o he is an alcoholic and has been drinking since age 13; the court recognized this problem and recommended treatment for him during his incarceration;
o sex offender registration and reporting is already required by law and serves as an additional societal protection; and
o a shorter period of incarceration with mental health treatment for him meets societal goals.

The state contends that the sentence is warranted by the circumstances of the case, the defendant's status as a third-felony offender, his using his [49,730 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] kinship with the victims to facilitate the crimes, his threats against the children, and the benefits accruing to him by the dismissal of the aggravated incest counts.

Whoever commits the crime of indecent behavior with juveniles on a victim under the age of 13 when the offender is 17 years of age or older, shall be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for not less than two, nor more than 25 years. At least two years of the sentence imposed shall be served without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. La. R.S. 14:81(H)(2).

Our law on appellate review of sentences is well settled.[6]

Page 544

[49,730 La.App. 2 Cir. 5] In this case, the defendant pled guilty without a sentencing cap. His motion to reconsider sentence was denied. In imposing sentence, the court noted the defendant's prior convictions, how he knew that his victims were particularly vulnerable due to their youth, how he used his status as grandfather to the victims to facilitate the commission of the crimes, and his threat to kill them and their families if they ever told anyone. The court also noted that the defendant suffered from emphysema, nerve damage, began drinking alcohol at age 13, and received mental health treatment in 2011. In addition, the court took into account the victims' impact statements and the defendant's extensive criminal history. The record reflects adequate consideration of La. C. Cr. P. art. 894.1.

Second, the record supports that the sentence was not grossly out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense. The defendant's stepdaughter stated that the defendant had sexually abused her and her sisters as children. In addition, the defendant's criminal history includes a sexual assault and child abuse conviction in Mississippi. These sentences are neither grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses of conviction, nor are they shocking to the sense of justice. These sentences are clearly not constitutionally excessive.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by sentencing defendant to serve consecutive terms, as it thoroughly reviewed the sentencing factors set [49,730 La.App. 2 Cir. 6] forth in La. C. Cr. P. art. 894.1. There was imperfect, yet substantial compliance with La. C. Cr. P. art. 883, as the court also found that the defendant's crimes resulted in separate and permanent injury to each victim, justifying consecutive sentences.

The defendant's crimes shock the conscience. His sentences do not shock the conscience.

DECREE

The convictions and sentences of the defendant are AFFIRMED.


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