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State v. Sparks

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

May 8, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
DWAYNE SPARKS

          APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 542-254, SECTION "L" Honorable Franz Zibilich, Judge.

          Leon Cannizzaro, District Attorney Donna Andrieu, Assistant District Attorney Irena Zajickova, Assistant District Attorney Scott G. Vincent, Assistant District Attorney ORLEANS PARISH COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE/STATE OF LOUISIANA

          Jack Muse ORLEANS PUBLIC DEFENDERS COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT/DEFENDANT

          Court composed of Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, Judge Paula A. Brown.

          SANDRA CABRINA JENKINS JUDGE.

         Pursuant to State v. Crosby, 338 So.2d 584 (La. 1976), defendant, Dwayne Sparks, pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a violation of La. R.S. 14:95.1, while reserving his right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to quash the bill of information. In this appeal, defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash the bill of information because he was not convicted of the predicate felony alleged in the bill of information, which is an essential element of the charged offense. Thus, defendant argues the bill of information fails to charge an offense punishable under a valid statute and, accordingly, must be quashed.

         Upon review of the record and in light of applicable law, we agree. We find that defendant's prior guilty plea, entered pursuant to Georgia's First Offender Act, does not constitute a conviction for purposes of establishing a violation of La. R.S. 14:95.1, as charged in the bill of information in the instant case. Thus, we find the trial court erred as a matter of law in denying defendant's motion to quash the bill of information. For the reasons set forth in further detail below, we reverse the trial court's ruling, grant defendant's motion to quash the bill of information, and vacate and set aside his conviction.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         On March 27, 2017, defendant entered a guilty plea to simple robbery in Case Number 14-CR-3008, in Superior Court of Dekalb County, Georgia, under the provisions of Georgia's First Offender Act, Ga. Code Ann. § 42-8-60. In accordance with the First Offender Act, the trial court withheld an adjudication of guilt and sentenced defendant to three years on probation.[1] Subsequently, defendant's probation was transferred to the State of Louisiana.

         On July 26, 2018, the State filed a bill of information charging defendant with possession of a firearm by a felon, a violation of La. R.S. 14:95.1, "having been previously convicted of a felony, namely simple robbery in Case Number 14-CR-3008 in Dekalb County, GA, Superior Court."[2] On that same date, defendant filed a motion to quash the bill of information. Subsequently, defendant appeared for arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty.

         On August 2, 2018, the trial court denied defendant's motion to quash, and, at that time, defendant changed his plea to guilty while reserving his right to appellate review of the trial court's ruling on his motion to quash, pursuant to Crosby, supra. Defendant waived sentencing delays, and the trial court sentenced defendant to five years at hard labor.[3]

         Defendant initially filed an application for supervisory writs to this Court, seeking review of the trial court's denial of his motion to quash. However, finding that defendant's guilty plea under Crosby was an appealable judgment, this Court denied defendant's writ. State v. Sparks, unpub., 18-0772 (La.App. 4 Cir. 9/26/18). Defendant then filed a motion for an out-of-time appeal, which the trial court granted. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         In his sole assignment of error, defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash the bill of information because it fails to charge an offense punishable under a valid statute. See La. C.Cr.P. art. 532(1). Defendant asserts that he was not convicted of the predicate felony alleged in the bill of information, which is essential to establish a violation of the charged offense, La. R.S. 14:95.1, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

         When a defendant urges a motion to quash the bill of information on the grounds that it fails to charge an offense punishable under a valid statute, the trial court must accept as true the facts contained in the bill of information, and determine as a matter of law and from the face of the pleadings whether a crime has been charged. State v. Landry, 13-1030, p. 4 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/7/14), 144 So.3d 1078, 1081 (quoting State v. Byrd, 96-2302, p. 18 (La. 3/13/98), 708 So.2d 401, 411). If the bill of information fails to charge an offense punishable under a valid statute, then it is defective and may be declared invalid by the trial court's ruling on the motion to quash. Landry, 13-1030, p. 4, 144 So.3d at 1081. In ruling on a motion to quash the bill of information, "the trial court is not authorized to make any factual determinations;" the trial court's determination is solely a question of law. Id. at p. 5, 144 So.3d at 1082. Thus, we review the trial court's ruling under the de novo standard of review. Id.

         In the instant case, the bill of information charged defendant with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a violation of La. R.S. 14:95.1, ...


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