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State v. Lewis

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 6, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
JOE LEWIS, JR.

          APPEAL FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO. 331, 931 HONORABLE THOMAS M. YEAGER, DISTRICT JUDGE

          J. Phillip Terrell, Jr. District Attorney Ninth Judicial District Court Catherine L. Davidson Brian Mosley Assistant District Attorneys COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Paula C. Marx Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Joe Lewis, Jr.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Billy Howard Ezell, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          JOHN D. SAUNDERS JUDGE.

         On January 23, 2017, Defendant, Joe Lewis, Jr., was charged by bill of information with one count of possession of CDS I (heroin), in violation of La.R.S. 40:966(C); and one count of possession of CDS II (cocaine), in violation of La.R.S. 40:967(C). On Monday, October 16, 2017, Defendant appeared before Judge Thomas Yeager with trial scheduled for that week on the instant case and Defendant's trial court docket number 331, 649.[1] At that time, Judge Yeager revoked Defendant's bond on an unrelated booking, referred to as DA number 116-4820, for multiple drug-related charges. Judge Yeager also noted Defendant was scheduled for trial the following day.

         On October 17, 2017, the trial court transferred Defendant's case out of Judge Yeager's division so that Judge Beard could hold a dangers and disadvantages conference and then proceed to trial if warranted. Judge Beard, now in charge of the case, invited Defendant and the State to resume plea negotiations. At the end of the hearing, the State informed Judge Beard that "[p]er our agreement, we are going to write up a plea form." Judge Beard responded "[o]kay." Judge Beard then set the case for Judge Doggett to take the plea after lunch.

         Still on October 17, 2017, Defendant appeared before Judge Mary Doggett, at which time the State presented the court with a "Plea of Guilty and Waiver of Rights" form, signed by Defendant and Defendant's trial counsel. Per the plea form, Defendant was pleading guilty to all charges in trial court docket numbers 331, 649 and 331, 931, in exchange for a four-year Department of Corrections sentence on each count with said sentences to run concurrently with each other, credit for time served, and the State agreed not to file a habitual offender bill of information and to dismiss DA number 116-4820, which contained multiple distribution and possession with intent to distribute charges. After properly Boykinizing Defendant, Judge Doggett signed the plea form and accepted Defendant's plea of guilty to all charges. At that time, Judge Doggett stated:

Okay. Well, um, I hope he's not changing it. Mr. Lewis, for Possession of CDS I, I am giving you, ordering you to serve 4 years with the Department of Corrections at hard labor and same sentence on each count of the Possessions of CDS II. Okay? I'm running them concurrent with each other. No? Maybe I'm not.
BY THE LAW CLERK: He said he could plead in the dark and he would sentence him. (Inaudible)
BY THE COURT: Okay. He said no. He said you - he could only plead in the dark. See, I knew he would have a problem with me taking the plea for him. Well, he's basically telling me I can't take his plea. (Inaudible) Oh, well that's bad.[2]

         Subsequently, it was ordered that Defendant be brought before Judge Yeager the following morning. At that time, Judge Yeager stated:

Mr. Joe Lewis. 331, 931. Your attorney is not here, Mr. Lewis, and it's my understanding they tried to go behind my back to take a guilty plea yesterday. The only person you can plead guilty in -- from is in front of me, and they can not change the sentence, sir. So I'm gonna set --I'm gonna reset you for trial. Unless your attorney is here and you want to plead guilty in front of me (interrupted).

         At that time, Judge Yeager vehemently insisted that if someone in his division chose not to plead guilty on Monday of trial, they could not get an agreed-upon sentence and would have to plead in the dark before him and specifically stated "He had a trial [date] to plead guilty. I'm not gonna call a jury in here on Tuesday and spend twenty-five hundred dollars on a jury for him to enter a plea of guilty that he could have taken months ago."

         On November 22, 2017, Defendant filed a "Motion to Enforce Plea Agreement and Memorandum of Law" seeking specific performance of the plea agreement entered into by Defendant and the State and accepted by Judge Doggett in writing and in open court on October 17, 2017. A hearing was held on November 27, 2017, at which time Judge Yeager again accused Defendant's trial counsel of engineering a plea deal behind his back and reiterated that he would not allow a defendant to get a set sentence plea after the Monday of a trial week. Judge Yeager at no point denied that the case had been transferred to Judge Beard for a dangers and disadvantages hearing or for trial if Defendant wished to proceed thereafter. Finally, Judge Yeager stated "In this case, there's not a completed agreement. He's not been sentenced. There is nothing to his detriment, uh, that's been done at this time. So your request to enforce the plea agreement is denied[]." Defendant sought review of that ruling with this court, but his writ application was deficient and was denied on the showing made. See State v. Lewis, 18-80 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/13/18) (unpublished opinion).

         On November 28, 2017, Defendant proceeded to trial by jury in the instant case, and on November 29, 2017, the jury found Defendant guilty as charged on both counts. On December 4, 2017, Defendant was sentenced to ten years at hard labor for possession of CDS I and five years at hard labor for possession of CDS II, both maximum sentences. The trial court further ordered the sentences be run consecutively to each other and consecutively to any other sentence. Defendant now appeals his convictions and sentences. For the following reasons, we find that Defendant is entitled to specific performance of his plea agreement, accepted by Judge Doggett in writing and in open court on October 17, ...


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