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State v. McCasland

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 18, 2017


         On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana No. 11-13-0359 Honorable Donald R. Johnson, Judge Presiding

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

          Jeff Landry Attorney General Colin Clark Deputy Solicitor General, Criminal Appeals Section Chief Baton Rouge, Louisiana J. Christopher Alexander Jennifer Aycock Matlow Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Defendant/ Appellant Jarret Jean Mccasland


          McCLENDON, J.

         Defendant, Jarret Jean McCasland, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:30.1. Defendant entered a plea of not guilty and, following a jury trial, was found guilty as charged. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider sentence; the trial court heard argument at a hearing and denied the motion. Defendant now appeals designating four assignments of error. We affirm the conviction and sentence.


         On the evening of July 25, 2013, Flavia Cardenas (also known as Cathy) and her boyfriend, defendant herein, went to the home of Flavia's friend, Christina Garman, who lived on Cedarcrest Avenue in Baton Rouge. Flavia had just recently turned nineteen years old; defendant was twenty-four years old. The three went to Christina's bedroom. Defendant and Flavia began using cocaine and heroin. According to Christina, who testified at trial, defendant, using a syringe and needle, injected heroin three times into Flavia, and also injected cocaine into Flavia two or three times. Defendant injected himself with the drugs, and Christina injected herself once with cocaine. All the injections from defendant were in Flavia's arm (or arms) except the last one. When defendant attempted to administer the third dose of heroin to Flavia, the needle broke off in her arm. With the heroin still in the syringe and no extra needles, defendant administered the drug anally to Flavia. According to Christina, defendant and Flavia left her house about 10:30 p.m.

         Around 11:00 p.m. or 11:30 p.m., defendant brought Flavia home to her mother's house on W. Versailles Drive. Flavia's mother, Nancy Landa, testified at trial that when Flavia and defendant came inside, they were arguing, and defendant was being very aggressive with Flavia. Defendant grabbed Flavia's phone and left. Crying, Flavia used Nancy's phone to call defendant. Defendant returned to the house, and he and Flavia went to Flavia's bedroom. Now past midnight, Nancy went to Flavia's room a few times to ask them to lower their voices. Later, Nancy was struck by a period of "total silence" in Flavia's bedroom after all of the arguing. When Nancy went to Flavia's bedroom to see what was going on, she saw defendant spoon-feeding cereal to Flavia. Nancy briefly went back to her own bedroom, then returned to Flavia's room, and told defendant that he had to leave. Defendant became angry and started yelling at Nancy. Defendant left briefly, but then returned and told Nancy that he had forgotten his keys. Defendant left again, then returned, and told Nancy he had to get some of his things from Flavia's room. Defendant left the house for the final time at about 2:00 a.m.

         Nancy checked on Flavia, who told her mother that she was tired and that they could talk tomorrow. Later that morning (now July 26) at about 9:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m., Nancy went to Flavia's room to wake her up. Flavia did not respond. Nancy called her neighbor, Joaquin Jule, for help. Joaquin arrived shortly thereafter, found Flavia non-responsive, and called 911. The 911 operator told Joaquin to try CPR on Flavia. Joaquin noticed that Flavia's lips were turning purple. He started chest compressions on Flavia, to no avail. Flavia was brought to the hospital where doctors were unable to revive her. Flavia died from acute respiratory depression caused by a heroin overdose.

         Defendant did not testify at trial. About two weeks after Flavia's death, defendant was brought to the police station for questioning. In his recorded (audio) statement, defendant said that he injected Flavia with cocaine only. According to defendant, when they were at Nancy's house in Flavia's bedroom, defendant had a syringe of heroin and was going to inject Flavia with it; but Flavia was moving around so much that he could not inject her. Impatient, Flavia took the syringe, according to defendant, and injected herself.


         In his first assignment of error, defendant argues that his life sentence at hard labor, as applied to him, is unconstitutionally excessive.[1]

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 20, of the Louisiana Constitution prohibit the imposition of cruel or excessive punishment. Although a sentence falls within statutory limits, it may be excessive. State v. Sepulvado, 367 So.2d 762, 767 (La. 1979). A sentence is considered constitutionally excessive if it is grossly disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense or is nothing more than a purposeless and needless infliction of pain and suffering. A sentence is considered grossly disproportionate if, when the crime and punishment are considered in light of the harm done to society, it shocks the sense of justice. State v. Andrews, 94-0842 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/5/95), 655 So.2d 448, 454. The trial court has great discretion in imposing a sentence within the statutory limits, and such a sentence will not be set aside as excessive in the absence of a manifest abuse of discretion. State v. Holts, 525 So.2d 1241, 1245 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1988). Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 894.1 sets forth the factors for the trial court to consider when imposing sentence. While the entire checklist of LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 894.1 need not be recited, the record must reflect the trial court adequately considered the criteria. State v. Brown, 02-2231 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/9/03), 849 So.2d 566, 569.

         The articulation of the factual basis for a sentence is the goal of LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 894.1, not rigid or mechanical compliance with its provisions. Where the record clearly shows an adequate factual basis for the sentence imposed, remand is unnecessary even where there has not been full compliance with LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 894.1. State v. Lanclos, 419 So.2d 475, 478 (La. 1982). The trial court should review the defendant's personal history, his prior criminal record, the seriousness of the offense, the likelihood that he will commit another crime, and his potential for rehabilitation through correctional services other than confinement. See State v. Jones, 398 So.2d 1049, 1051-52 (La. 1981). On appellate review of a sentence, the relevant question is whether the trial court abused its broad sentencing discretion, not whether another sentence might have been more appropriate. State v. Thomas, 98-1144 (La. 10/9/98), 719 So.2d 49, 50 (per curiam).

         For defendant's second degree murder conviction, the trial court imposed the mandatory life sentence at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. See LSA-R.S. 14:30.IB. Four months later, after hearing extensive argument on whether the life sentence was excessive as applied to this particular defendant, the trial court denied the motion to reconsider sentence. Defendant argues in brief that LSA-R.S. 14:30.1A(3) as applied to him is unconstitutional because it was Flavia who purchased the heroin and then later ingested it on her own and he (defendant) merely carried the heroin into the house. Defendant suggests that to sentence him to life imprisonment without the possibility of probation or parole is a gross misinterpretation of the intent of the statute and, as such, he is a victim of the legislature's failure to assign sentences that are meaningfully tailored to the culpability of the offender, the gravity of the offense, and the circumstances of the case.[2]

         In State v. Dorthey, 623 So.2d 1276, 1280-81 (La. 1993), the Louisiana Supreme Court opined that if a trial court was to find that the punishment mandated by LSA-R.S. 15:529.1 makes no "measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment" or that the sentence amounted to nothing more than "the purposeful imposition of pain and suffering" and is "grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime", the court has the option, indeed the duty, to reduce such sentence to one that would not be constitutionally excessive. In State v. Johnson, 97-1906 (La. 3/4/98), 709 So.2d 672, 676-77, the Louisiana Supreme Court reexamined the issue of when Dorthey permits a downward departure from the mandatory minimum sentences in the Habitual Offender Law. While both Dorthey and Johnson involve the mandatory minimum sentences imposed under the Habitual Offender Law, the Louisiana Supreme Court has held that the sentencing review principles espoused in Dorthey are not restricted in application to the penalties provided by LSA-R.S. 15:529.1. See State v. Fobbs, 99-1024 (La. 9/24/99), 744 So.2d 1274 (per curiam); State v. Collins, 09-1617 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2/12/10), 35 So.3d 1103, 1108, writ denied. 10-0606 (La. 10/8/10), 46 So.3d 1265.

         There is no need for the trial court to justify a sentence under LSA-C.Cr.P. art. 894.1 when it is legally required to impose that sentence. As such, the failure to articulate reasons as set forth in Article 894.1 when imposing a mandatory life sentence is not an error; articulating such reasons or factors would be an exercise in futility since the court has no discretion. State v. Felder, 00-2887 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/28/01), 809 So.2d 360, 371, writ denied, 01-3027 (La. 10/25/02), 827 So.2d 1173. See State v. Ditcharo, 98-1374 (La.App. 5 Cir. 7/27/99), 739 So.2d 957, 972, writ denied, 99-2551 (La. 2/18/00), 754 So.2d 964; State v. Jones, 31, 613 (La.App. 2 Cir. 4/1/99), 733 So.2d 127, 146, writ denied, 99-1185 (La. 10/1/99), 748 So.2d 434; State v. Williams, 445 So.2d 1264, 1269 (La.App. 3 Cir.), writ denied, 449 So.2d 1346 (La. 1984).

         Mandatory sentences have been repeatedly upheld as constitutional and consistent with the federal and state constitutional provisions prohibiting cruel, unusual or excessive punishment. See State v. Jones, 46, 758, 46, 759 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/14/11), 81 So.3d 236, 249, writ denied, 12-0147 (La. 5/4/12), 88 So.3d 462. To rebut the presumption that the mandatory minimum sentence is constitutional, a defendant must clearly and convincingly show that he is exceptional, which means that because of unusual circumstances this defendant is a victim of the legislature's failure to assign sentences that are meaningfully tailored to the culpability of the offender, the gravity of the offense, and the circumstances of the case. Johnson, 709 So.2d at 676.

         Defendant devotes most of his excessive sentence argument to the proportionality doctrine and cites to, in particular, Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 103 S.Ct. 3001, 77 L.Ed.2d 637 (1983), and Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 111 S.Ct. 2680, 115 L.Ed.2d 836 (1991). As noted by defendant in brief, in Solem (a recidivist statute case wherein the defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment because of six prior felony convictions), the Supreme Court, in applying a proportionality analysis, found the defendant's life sentence without the possibility of parole significantly disproportionate to his crime and, as such, prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Solem Court, 463 U.S. at 292, 103 S.Ct. at 3011, found that a court's proportionality analysis under the Eighth Amendment should be guided by objective criteria, including (i) the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; (ii) the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (iii) the sentences imposed for commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions.

         Eight years later in Harmelin, the defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine. Writing for the majority in Harmelin, Justice Scalia found that while Harmelin's claim that his sentence is unconstitutional because of its mandatory nature finds some support in the so-called "individualized capital-sentencing doctrine" of the Court's death penalty jurisprudence, that doctrine may not be extended outside the capital context because of the qualitative differences between death and all other penalties. Thus, according to Justice Scalia, there is no proportionality requirement in the Eighth Amendment. Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 985-94, 111 S.Ct. at 2696-2701.

         In State v. Mitchell, 96-1896 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/20/97), 697 So.2d 22, 25, writ denied, 97-1988 (La. 1/9/98), 705 So.2d 1098, this court found that the Supreme Court in Harmelin cast serious doubt on the viability of the Solem v. Helm analysis. We continued:

The Supreme Court reexamined this area of the law and upheld a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole for a defendant convicted of possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine. In doing so, although a majority could not agree on the exact standard to employ, the Supreme Court limited the instances in which a complete Solem v. Helm proportionality analysis is required. [Footnote omitted]. As a result, courts are required to conduct the proportionality analysis required by Solem v. Helm only if, after comparing the gravity of the offense against the severity of the sentence, the court infers that the sentence is "grossly disproportionate" to the offense. State v. Wimberly, 618 So.2d 908, 913 (La.App. 1st Cir.), writ denied, 624 So.2d 1229 (La. 1993) (citation omitted).

Mitchell, 697 So.2d at 25.

         In State v. Lindsey, 99-3256, 99-3302 (La. 10/17/00), 770 So.2d 339, 341, cert, denied, 532 U.S. 1010, 121 S.Ct. 1739, 149 L.Ed.2d 663 (2001), our supreme court held that, despite the defendant's assertion that mitigatory factors were important based on Solem, the mandatory life sentence imposed by the trial court was not excessive under Johnson. In footnote 2, the Lindsey court opined:

We note that the holding of Solem has been called into question by the Supreme Court's later opinion in Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 111 S.Ct. 2680, 115 L.Ed.2d 836 (1991), which held that the fact that the sentencing judge was statutorily required to impose a life sentence without possibility of parole and could not take into account the particularized circumstances of the crime and the criminal, including such mitigating factors as the accused's lack of any prior felony convictions, did not make the sentence "cruel and unusual" under the Eighth Amendment.

Lindsey, 770 So.2d at 344 n.2.

         In support of the disproportionate impact that the mandatory life sentence has on his particular situation, defendant suggests that the "outcome" of this case is contrary to the legislative intent underpinning LSA-R.S. 14:30.1A(3). Defendant notes that in May of 1987, Senator William Jefferson proposed and presented Senate Bill No. 191 to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and that the minutes from the committee meeting provided the following:

Senator Jefferson stated that the bill provides that if a person sells a drug which results in death of the buyer, that seller could be charged with second degree murder. Senator Jefferson explained that the District Attorney association had some language he wished to incorporate in the bill. Mr. Robert Davidson, of the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office, representing the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, spoke in support of the bill. Senator Jefferson moved that Senate Bill No. 191 be reported favorably, and without opposition it was so reported.
Defendant then states in brief:
Senator Jefferson's legislative intent is critically important. His choice of words clearly shows that he contemplated, and had the foresight to avoid, grossly unjust outcomes such as the one involved in this case. The legislative intent of the bill was to give law enforcement and prosecutors a new weapon against the drug trafficking industry, and specifically those who sold drugs. It was not intended to apply to tragedies such as the one that occurred in this case.

         Defendant's assertion notwithstanding, legislative intent is looked at only when the words of the statute are not clear or are ambiguous. When a law is clear and unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd consequences, the law shall be applied as written and no further interpretation may be made in search of the intent of the legislature. LSA-C.C. art. 9. Regarding interpretation, LSA-R.S. 14:3 provides:

The articles of this Code cannot be extended by analogy so as to create crimes not provided for herein; however, in order to promote justice and to effect the objects of the law, all of its provisions shall be given a genuine construction, according to the fair import of their words, taken in their usual sense, in connection with the context, and with reference to the purpose of the provision.

         Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:30.1A(3) provides, in pertinent part:

A. Second degree murder is the killing of a human being:
* * *
(3) When the offender unlawfully distributes or dispenses a controlled dangerous substance listed in Schedules I through V of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law, or any combination thereof, which is the direct cause of the death of the ...

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