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State v. Heins

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 10, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
ASHLEY NICOLE HEINS Appellant

         Appealed 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 for Appellant

          JAMES. E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          HOLLY Y. McGINNESS TOMMY J. JOHNSON Assistant District Attorneys

          Before MOORE, GARRETT, and COX, JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         Ashley 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.

         Shortly 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.

         Heins 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 on Linwood.

         Heins's 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.

         The 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.

         At the 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").

         At 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.

          Heins 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 ...


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