from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 335, 848 Honorable John
Mosely, Jr., Judge
LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Mary Constance Hanes Counsel
E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee
Y. McGINNESS TOMMY J. JOHNSON Assistant District Attorneys
MOORE, GARRETT, and COX, JJ.
Nicole Heins pled guilty as charged to vehicular homicide and
received a sentence of 25 years at hard labor, including
three years without benefits. She now appeals her sentence as
excessive. We find no excessiveness, but vacate and remand
the sentence for compliance with La. R.S. 14:32.1 B.
after 3:00 pm on August 18, 2015, Heins was driving a 2003
Kia Optima north in the inside southbound lane of
Linwood Avenue in Shreveport. Near the intersection with West
83rd Street, she collided head-on with a Suzuki motorcycle
that was riding south, properly in the inside southbound lane
of Linwood. Police responded to this major crash and found
the cyclist, 55-year-old Franklin Jacobs, lying on the
ground, unconscious and with massive injuries. He was taken
to University Health, where doctors were unable to restore
his consciousness; several days later, his family took him
off life support.
told an officer at the scene that she did not know what
happened: "the motorcycle came out of nowhere and
appeared in front of" her car. She also said she was on
her way to rehab, and had taken four Klonopin, a
tranquilizer; the officer felt that her condition contributed
to the accident. (He also found that Heins had no insurance
or valid driver's license, and that the Kia had switched
tags.) A police corporal officer gave her her
Miranda rights, and she admitted having taken
Klonopin, Latuda (an antipsychotic) and Flexeril (a muscle
relaxer); she repeatedly fell asleep in the patrol car, while
talking to officers, and while submitting to a blood test.
Officers later talked to witnesses who had seen Heins driving
erratically just before this accident - swerving around an
18-wheeler on the Inner Loop and striking a cement guardrail
toxicology report was positive not only for Klonopin and
Flexeril, but for benzodiazepines and Xanax (minor
tranquilizers), Tramadol (an opioid pain medication) and
Buprenorphine (a drug for treating opioid addiction), all
Schedule III CDS.
state charged Heins by bill of information with vehicular
homicide, La. R.S. 14:32.1 A(3). She initially pled not
guilty, but on March 2, 2016, she appeared before the
district court, withdrew her prior plea and pled guilty as
charged. There was no agreement as to sentence.
hearing, Heins testified that she was 36 years old, had
completed 11th grade, had discussed the charge with her
attorney, and understood the nature of the proceeding. The
court advised her of her Boykin rights, and the
prosecutor gave a brief statement of facts, which Heins
confirmed as true. The court accepted the guilty plea and
ordered a presentence investigation report ("PSI").
sentencing, in January 2017, the court acknowledged letters
from the victim's family members asking that Heins
receive the maximum sentence. Heins apologized to family
members who were present in the courtroom. The court noted
Heins's criminal history, disclosed in the PSI, with
prior convictions for hit-and-run, drug offenses and DWI. The
court recognized Heins's expression of remorse, but found
that she acted under the influence of narcotics and the crime
was serious. The court sentenced her to 25 years at hard
labor, with three years without benefit of parole, probation
or suspension of sentence, and concurrent with any other
sentence she may be serving.
filed a motion to reconsider sentence, urging the court to
consider her history of addiction, which is recognized as an
illness by DSM-5, and the fact that she was seeking help,
actually driving to rehab at the time of the accident. She
asked the court to impose a lesser sentence, and ...