from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Franklin, Louisiana Trial Court Nos. 2015-93F & 2015-94M
Honorable Ann B. McIntyre, Judge
G. SCOTT Counsel for Appellant.
M. (MACK) LANCASTER District Attorney WILLIAM R. BARHAM PENNY
DOUCIERE Assistant District Attorneys Counsel for Appellee.
DREW, MOORE, and COX, JJ.
defendant, Demetrick D. Johnson, pled guilty to one count of
domestic abuse battery (burning), a violation of La. R.S.
14:35.3(B)(1) and (5), by burning his domestic partner,
Remona Smith Edwards, with a hot iron on her right arm during
a violent domestic argument. At sentencing, the district
court applied Subsection M of the statute, a special penalty
provision triggered when the domestic abuse battery is
committed "by burning that causes serious bodily
injury" as defined by Paragraphs B(1) and
in the statute. The court sentenced the defendant to 40 years
at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or
suspension of sentence. Johnson now appeals his conviction
and sentence, alleging in four assignments of error that the
sentence is unlawful, excessive, and his guilty plea was
infirm. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction
February 14, 2015, the Franklin Parish Sheriff's Office
received an anonymous emergency call reporting that a black
male was beating a black female inside a black Jeep Cherokee
at the ATM located at the Winnsboro Bank in Gilbert,
Louisiana. Deputies Joshua Dunn and Shawn Butler were
dispatched to the scene. Deputy Dunn testified at the
preliminary examination that they drove to the reported
location and stopped a black Jeep Cherokee on La. Highway 15.
He testified that the defendant was the front seat passenger,
and the victim, Remona Smith Edwards, was the driver of the
vehicle. The officers separated the two and interviewed each
person individually. Deputy Dunn said that Ms. Edwards had
cuts and bruises on her face, including a bruised and swollen
the deputies asked Ms. Edwards if Johnson had hit her.
Edwards said she was afraid to say because Johnson said he
would kill her if she told the deputies that he hit her, but
she eventually admitted to the deputy that Johnson had
physically assaulted her that day, hitting her in the face
several times and punching her in the back and left hip.
Johnson admitted that he punched Edwards. Both were taken to
the sheriff's office.
Dunn described the injuries on Ms. Edwards as "scratches
on her face and her left eye was bruised and swollen."
She also had "red marks on her bottom lip." While
at the sheriff's office, Deputy Dunn also noticed a burn
about which he said, "it was-it looked bad." * * *
"It was -it was puffy red, swollen." When asked at
the preliminary hearing if the burn was in the shape of an
iron, Deputy Dunn said, "It did have-yes. Yes."
to the presentence investigation ("PSI"), Ms.
Edwards told the deputy that, several days earlier, Johnson
came home from work and raised his fists at her while she was
ironing. She pushed him, and he grabbed her right arm and
held the hot iron to her forearm. Afterward, Johnson barred
Edwards from leaving the house by threatening her, telling
her that she knew what would happen if she tried to leave.
Edwards told the officers that she did not leave because she
felt like Johnson would hurt her. After hearing Edwards'
allegations and observing the visible signs of abuse, the
deputies arrested Johnson on charges of aggravated second
degree battery and false imprisonment. At the time of the
arrest, Johnson was on parole from a prior conviction.
sheriff's office made photographs of the several injuries
suffered by Ms. Edwards, including her burned arm and the
injuries to her face and left hip. These photos are not part
of the record on appeal.
February 20, 2015, Johnson was charged by a bill of
information citing "La. R.S. 14:35.3E" as count
one, "Domestic Abuse Battery by Burning by committing a
battery upon Remona Smith Edwards, a member of his household,
by burning her with an iron on her right arm on or about
February 11, 2015." Count two of the bill charged one
count of simple robbery on February 14, 2015, in violation of
La. R.S. 14:65 "by taking cash belonging to * * *
Edwards by use of force or intimidation."
same day, Johnson was charged by a separate bill of
information with one count of domestic abuse battery on
February 14, 2015, in violation of La. R.S. 14:35.3, and one
count of false imprisonment in violation of La. R.S. 14:46.
10, 2015, defense attorney Amanda Wilkins, the second of four
defense attorneys who were appointed to represent the
defendant in the proceedings up to the time of his guilty
plea, argued a motion to subpoena the medical records of the
victim, Ms. Edwards, and, because she was newly appointed
counsel, she moved for a continuance to prepare for trial. It
is important to note that the defendant, who was highly
engaged in the various hearings, was present at this hearing.
Ms. Wilkins explained that the medical evidence was important
because a battery-by-burning conviction could expose her
client to a sentencing range of 5 to 50 years if the state
proved the element of a "substantial injury" to the
victim. Hence, she argued that the victim's medical
records might prove to be exculpatory regarding that element.
The state responded that they have photos that showed the
extent of the injuries to the victim. The hearing was
continued to August 26, 2015, in order to include Ms. Edwards
in the hearing since it concerned her medical records. Again,
the defendant was present in open court with his defense
counsel. Ms. Wilkins stated the following in her opening
This is a case involving domestic abuse battery by burning
which carries a five to fifty year penalty and one of the
elements of that serious charge. And then one of the elements
of that is that there is a substantial or serious injury
caused by the burning. And so that is one of the reasons why
we've requested Ms. Edward's medical records is just
about the nature of the injury.
the matter was resolved when Ms. Edwards agreed to authorize
the release of her medical records to the defense, and the
motion was granted. The record contains no medical records;
apparently there were never any medical records regarding
case came up for trial on June 6, 2016. After the jury was
selected, Johnson decided to enter into a written plea
agreement with the state. A handwritten entry in the
preprinted "standard form" agreement specified that
Johnson agreed to plead guilty to "DAB by burning."
There is no citation of the statute of conviction or citation
of Subsection M. In exchange for the guilty plea, the state
agreed to dismiss all other charges, waive the right to
charge as a habitual offender, allow the sentence to run
concurrently with any other sentence, and to allow Johnson
credit for time served since February 14, 2015, the date of
his arrest. The agreement also provided that the court would
order a PSI and "sentence within statutory range."
Neither the statute nor the special penalty provision was
cited to the trial court.
Guilty Plea Hearing
defendant entered his guilty plea on June 6, 2016. The
following factual basis for the plea was made in court by the
assistant district attorney:
And as a factual basis for this complaint was a call that was
made by an anonymous caller to the Franklin Parish
Sheriff's Office who in turned [sic] dispatched
units regarding a fight that was happening inside of a
vehicle at the Gilbert branch, of the Winnsboro State Bank.
The caller personally witnessed Mr. Johnson striking the
victim, Ms. Edwards. And they had gotten some money out of
the ATM machine. Officers responded. They pulled the vehicle
over. They did notice that Ms. Edwards was in a bad way. Had
visible injury to her face. And when they got back to the
sheriff's office, she did show them where an iron had
burned her. Photographs were taken. They're provided to
defense counsel. We're going to submit those photographs
in the course of the trial. The burn is in the actual shape
of an iron. You can tell it is an iron. And that is
consistent with her statement that, that happened during a
fight at her home with Mr. Johnson on or about February 11,
2015. Said there was an argument that escalated and he had
taken her arm and pushed the iron intentionally against her
arm knowing that it was hot. So that is the factual basis for
the plea. They were living together at the time. Mr. Johnson
was living there at the home of Ms. Edwards. And that is the
extent of our case and that's what we would offer to
prove to the jury. That's our factual basis.
this statement, the court had the defendant sworn in and
asked him some questions before determining that he was
competent to enter a guilty plea and to freely waive his
constitutional rights. Then the following exchange took
Court: Have you had the opportunity to talk to your attorney,
Mr. Young, about your case and any defenses that you might
Defendant: Yes, Ma'am. We spoke.
Court: Did Mr. Young explain the charge and the maximum and
minimum sentence you could receive if you did not accept this
Defendant: Excuse me?
Court: Did he explain to you the charge and the maximum and
minimum sentence that you could receive if you did not accept
this plea agreement?
Defendant: Yes, ma'am.
Court: Do you need any additional time with him?
Defendant: Uh. . . .
Defense Counsel: I think we're good.
Defendant: I think we got a clear understanding.
defendant acknowledged that he understood the charge as
recited in the bill of information stating that he committed
a battery on Remona Smith Edwards, a member of his household,
by burning her with an iron on her right arm.
reading the statute defining the general offense of domestic
abuse battery and reading the definition of a household
member, the court told the defendant that it needed to state
the sentencing range. The judge stated the following:
It says, that if domestic abuse battery is committed by
burning, that results in serious bodily injury, the offense
shall be classified as a crime of violence and the offender
shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than five nor
more than fifty years without benefit of probation, parole,
or suspension of sentence. So, that is the statutory
definition and the sentence that you were exposed
to. I also want to explain that serious bodily injury means
bodily injury that involves extreme physical pain, or
protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or
impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or
mental faculty, or a substantial risk of death. Also would
involved [sic] unconsciousness as one part of that. I'm
also going to explain to you about a second, third, or fourth
conviction of domestic abuse battery since I think that, that
would be what you would be exposed to if you ever are
arrested on another domestic abuse battery. Let me get that.
defendant interrupted the judge at this point, stating:
Defendant: Excuse me, Ms. McIntyre? Where I can explained uh,
my in details about the story before ...