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State v. Palmer

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 10, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
CALVIN RAY PALMER Appellant

         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 107, 732 Honorable Katherine C. Dorroh, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Holli Ann Herrle-Castillo Counsel for Appellant

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

          JASON W. WALTMAN REBECCA A. EDWARDS Assistant District Attorneys

          Before BROWN, MOORE, and PITMAN, JJ.

          PITMAN, J.

         In 1978, Defendant Calvin Ray Palmer, who was a juvenile at the time of this offense, was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence for the first 40 years. However, in accordance with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), the trial court resentenced Defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor, with the benefit of parole eligibility. He now appeals. For the following reasons, Defendant's sentence is affirmed.

         FACTS

         On February 27, 1978, 17-year-old Defendant was indicted on one count of second degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. Following a jury trial, he was found guilty of the January 28, 1978 shooting death of Shelly Diggs. On November 20, 1978, the trial court imposed the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence for the first 40 years. Defendant did not appeal his conviction or sentence.

         On February 8, 2017, Defendant filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that his mandatory life sentence was unconstitutional under Miller, supra, and Montgomery, supra, because he was a juvenile when the crime was committed. Counsel was appointed to represent him. The state did not oppose his motion. On April 27, 2017, the trial court resentenced Defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor, with the benefit of parole eligibility. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that the trial court erred in failing to hold a sentencing hearing to consider any possible mitigating factors prior to resentencing and that automatically resentencing him to life imprisonment with the benefit of parole does not take into account the need for individualized sentencing. He further argues that the sentence is excessive, even though it falls within the statutory guidelines, and that the trial court has the authority to deviate from a mandatory sentence.

         For those offenders convicted of second degree murder in 1978, La. R.S. 14:30.1 provided for a sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence for the first 40 years. The current version of La. R.S. 14:30.1 provides for a sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. In Miller, supra, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." The Miller court did not establish a categorical prohibition against life imprisonment without parole for juvenile homicide offenders; instead, a sentencing court is required to consider an offender's youth and attendant characteristics as mitigating circumstances before deciding whether to impose the harshest penalty for juveniles convicted of a homicide offense. Montgomery, supra; State v. Williams, 12-1766 (La. 3/8/13), 108 So.3d 1169.[1]

         In response to Miller, supra, the Louisiana legislature enacted La.C.Cr.P. art. 878.1 and La. R.S. 15:574.4(E), which became effective on August 1, 2013. When enacted, La.C.Cr.P. art. 878.1 required a trial court to conduct a hearing prior to imposing a life without parole sentence on a juvenile murder defendant. In the event that the trial court imposes a life sentence with parole eligibility, La. R.S. 15:574.4(E) provided the conditions, such as serving 35 ...


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