APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH
OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 13-5285, DIVISION
"K" HONORABLE ELLEN SHIRER KOVACH, JUDGE PRESIDING
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D.
Connick, Jr., Terry M. Boudreaux, Gail D. Schlosser, Jeffrey
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, RALPH L. WILLIE, Prentice L.
composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg
Wicker, and Robert A. Chaisson
FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE
Ralph L. Willie, appeals his conviction and sentence pursuant
to a guilty plea for intentional possession of pornography
involving juveniles where the victim is under the age of 13
in violation of La. R.S. 14:81(E)(5)(a). On appeal, defendant
contends his plea should be vacated, arguing the trial court
erred in accepting his guilty plea without conducting a
hearing to address his pending motion for mental examination.
Upon consideration, we conditionally affirm defendant's
conviction and remand this matter to the trial court for a
determination of whether, at the time defendant pled guilty,
reasonable grounds existed to doubt defendant's mental
capacity to proceed and, if so, for further action consistent
with that finding.
of the Case
October 17, 2013, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney
filed a bill of information charging defendant with one count
of intentional possession of pornography involving juveniles
where the victim is under 13 years of age in violation of La.
R.S. 14:81.1(5)(a) [sic]. Defendant was arraigned on December 11,
2013, and pled not guilty.
25, 2014, pursuant to a plea agreement, defendant withdrew
his plea of not guilty and pled guilty to one count of
possession of child pornography in violation of La. R.S.
14:81.1(E)(5)(a). Pursuant to the plea agreement, the trial
judge sentenced defendant to the statutory minimum sentence
of ten years imprisonment, at hard labor, to be served
without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of
sentence. The trial judge notified defendant that, upon
release, he is required to register as a sex offender under
La. R.S. 15:543.
failed to timely appeal, but on July 1, 2016, he filed an
application for post-conviction relief ("APCR")-in
part challenging the validity of his guilty plea based on his
alleged mental incapacity at the time of his plea. On
December 2, 2016, the trial court denied defendant's
APCR. Defendant filed a supervisory writ to this court on
December 12, 2016. On April 4, 2017, this Court granted the
writ and remanded the matter to the trial court, instructing
the court to consider defendant's APCR as a motion for an
out-of-time appeal, pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 930.8. The
district court granted defendant's out-of-time appeal on
April 10, 2017.
and Procedural Background
September 4, 2012, the Louisiana Attorney General's
high-technology crime unit contacted defendant over a
peer-to-peer network during a child pornography
investigation. On January 22, 2013, pursuant to a warrant,
investigators previewed two desktop computers belonging to
defendant and identified one video and four images of
children between the ages of 9 and 12 years old posed in a
sexual manner or engaged in sexual activities. Defendant was
arrested and notified of his Miranda rights. In a
post-Miranda interview, defendant told police he
"like[d]" child pornography, and admitted to
searching and possessing child pornography.
December 11, 2013, defendant, represented by private counsel,
appeared for his arraignment and pled not guilty. On January
16, 2014, defendant failed to appear for a scheduled hearing.
January 29, 2014, defendant's privately retained counsel
filed an "Initial Discovery Motion" which made
several requests, including a "Motion for the Court to
Order a Mental Examination of Ralph Wille,
" seeking court appointment of an expert to
determine Mr. Willie's ability to aid in his defense, to
understand the issues involved, and his capacity to
understand that he was possibly viewing underage children. In
support of this motion, defense counsel argued that defendant
displayed clear mental problems of concentration and
sometimes gave answers to counsel which did not address the
question asked, indicating that defendant did not comprehend
what often was a simple question. Defense counsel also
asserted that defendant had previously been declared mentally
disabled by a social security judge. Defendant produced no
documentation supporting his claim for mental incompetency
and did not seek a contradictory hearing.
"Initial Discovery Motion" defense counsel also
sought to withdraw as counsel of record, citing
defendant's non-cooperation, failure to provide requested
documents, and refusal to answer his phone, further
complicated by defendant's son's lack of cooperation.
is no evidence in the record that the trial court addressed
defense's "Motion for the Court to Order Mental
Examination of Ralph Wille." After defendant's
failure to appear at a January 16, 2014, hearing the trial
court issued an attachment for his arrest. Thereafter, on
January 31, 2014, the trial court granted defense
counsel's motion to withdraw as counsel of record. The
attachment was ultimately satisfied on May 23, 2014 by
defendant's arrest. On June 12, 2014, the trial court
appointed Jacque Touzet of the Jefferson Parish Public
Defenders Office to represent defendant. Defendant's
newly appointed counsel did not request a hearing on
defendant's previously filed motion for mental
examination, nor does the record reflect that defense counsel
withdrew the pending motion prior to the defendant's
plea. The record is silent on this issue.
29, 2014, defendant withdrew his not guilty plea and pled
guilty without proceeding to trial. In accordance with the
plea agreement, defendant was sentenced to ten years
imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole,
probation or suspension of sentence, but with credit for the
time defendant had served on his contempt sentence. The State
also agreed not to file a habitual offender bill of
information pursuant to La. R.S. 15:529.1 against defendant.
At sentencing the same day, the trial court informed
defendant of the sex offender registration requirements under
La. R.S. 15:543, including the requirement that he register
as a sex offender for 25 years from the date of his release
the guilty plea and sentencing proceedings, in response to
both the court's and defense counsel's questions,
defendant displayed signs of confusion. After appointed
counsel asked whether defendant wanted to continue being
represented by him and enter a guilty plea, the following
exchange took place:
I'm kind of - - I can't think straight.
I guess, yes. I don't - - I don't know.
I asked you earlier and you told me you wanted to go forward
with me. Has that changed is my question.
No, it hasn't changed.
counsel thereafter informed the court that he had explained
the plea to defendant, and "believe[d] he understands
enough about his case at the time to go forward."
Thereafter, during the Boykin colloquy, the
trial court did not inquire about defendant's potential
mental deficiency that day, nor did either counsel or the
court inquire about defendant's pending mental
examination motion where previous defense counsel alleged
defendant exhibited problems of concentration and
comprehension as well as a prior social security disability
determination. During sentencing, when questioned about the
sex offender notification requirements, defendant displayed
further confusion over the sex offender registration form.
When asked by the court whether he understood the document,
defendant asked his counsel:
Is that the one that we reviewed? ...