WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE FIFTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEAL,
PARISH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
granted the application to determine whether defendant's
habitual offender status and sentence are governed by La.R.S.
15:529.1 as it existed at the time of the commission of the
crime, as it was amended by 2017 La. Acts 282, or as it was
amended by 2018 La. Acts 542. Finding Act 282 applies, we
reverse the court of appeal, vacate the habitual offender
adjudication and sentence, and remand with instructions to
the district court for further proceedings.
November 11, 2016, a St. John the Baptist Parish jury found
defendant guilty of an aggravated battery, La.R.S. 14:34, he
committed on February 1, 2015. On November 16, 2016, the
State filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging
two predicate offenses-a 1991 distribution of cocaine
conviction and a 2004 manslaughter conviction. On February
13, 2017, the district court adjudicated defendant a
third-felony offender and sentenced him to the life sentence
mandated by La.R.S. 15:529.1(A)(3)(b) (effective August 15,
2010). The court of appeal vacated the habitual offender
sentence and remanded for resentencing because of the trial
court's failure to vacate the underlying aggravated
battery sentence. State v. Lyles, 17-0405 (La.App. 5
Cir. 2/21/18), 239 So.3d 1055. After remand, the district
court resentenced defendant on March 12, 2018, to the same
term of imprisonment under the same provision of law.
appeal, defendant contended that the Habitual Offender law,
as amended by 2017 La. Acts 282, should be applied to him.
Among other changes, this act reduced from ten to five years
the time allowed-commonly known as the cleansing
period-between expiration of correctional supervision for one
offense and commission of the next offense on the habitual
offender ladder. Defendant's probation for distribution
of cocaine expired in 1996 and he did not commit manslaughter
until 2003. Therefore, defendant contended he was a
second-felony offender subject to a sentencing range of 3 1/3
to 20 years imprisonment under the amended law.
relied on Section 2 of Act 282, which provides, "This
Act shall become effective November 1, 2017, and shall have
prospective application only to offenders whose convictions
became final on or after November 1, 2017." The State,
however, relied on a subsequent amendment to the Habitual
Offender Law in 2018 La. Acts 542 to argue that the district
court applied the correct version of the Habitual Offender
Law (i.e., the one in effect when defendant committed the
crime in 2015). According to the State, despite the language
of Act 282, the legislature subsequently clarified its intent
with Act 542, which added La.R.S. 15:529.1(K).
court of appeal agreed with the State, and found the district
court sentenced defendant under the correct version of the
Habitual Offender Law:
Upon review, we rely on the well settled jurisprudence that
the law in effect at the time of the offense is determinative
of a defendant's punishment, including for habitual
offender proceedings. [State v. Parker, 03-0924 (La.
4/14/04), 871 So.2d 317; State v. Sugasti, 01-3407
(La. 06/21/02), 820 So.2d 518; State v. Williams,
03-0571 (La.App. 5 Cir. 11/12/03), 862 So.2d 108.] Further,
we find that by enacting subsection K, the legislature
clarified its original intent that the date of commission of
the underlying offense be used to determine the sentencing
provision applicable to a habitual offender, except as
otherwise explicitly provided in the statute. Therefore,
after review, we find that the Habitual Offender Law in
effect at the time of the commission of defendant's
underlying offense of aggravated battery should be applied in
determining defendant's habitual offender sentence, and
the trial court did so correctly when imposing
defendant's enhanced sentence of life imprisonment
. . . .
Accordingly, we find that the 2015 version of La. R.S.
15:529.1(A)(3)(b) is the sentencing provision applicable to
defendant herein because his third felony (the aggravated
battery conviction) and his predicate conviction of
manslaughter are crimes of violence under La. R.S. 14:2(B)(5)
and La. R.S. 14:2(B)(4), respectively. Additionally,
defendant's 1991 conviction for distribution of cocaine
in violation of La. R.S. 40:967(A) was a violation of the
Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substance Law punishable by ten
years of imprisonment or more. La. R.S. 40:967(B)(4). Under
the habitual offender statute as it existed at the time of
the commission of the underlying offense of aggravated
battery, defendant was subject to an enhanced mandatory
sentence of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole,
probation, or suspension of sentence. See La. R.S.
15:529.1(A)(3)(b). For the foregoing reasons, we find that
the trial court correctly applied the Habitual Offender Law
in effect in 2015 in sentencing defendant.
State v. Lyles, 18-0283, pp. 9-10 (La.App. 5 Cir.
12/27/18), 263 So.3d 930, 938- 939.
question presented is one of statutory interpretation, which
begins "as [it] must, with the language of the
statute." Bailey v. United States, 516 U.S.
137, 143, 116 S.Ct. 501, 506, 133 L.Ed.2d 472 (1995).
"Unequivocal provisions are not subject to judicial
construction and should be applied by giving words their
generally understood meaning." State v.
Oliphant, 12-1176, p. 5 (La. 3/19/13), 113 So.3d 165,
168; see also Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503
U.S. 249, 253-54, 112 S.Ct. 1146, 1149, 117 L.Ed.2d 391
(1992) ("In any event, canons of construction are no
more than rules of thumb to help courts determine the meaning
of legislation, and in interpreting a statute a court should
always turn first to one, cardinal canon before all others.
We have stated time and again that courts must presume that a
legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a
statute what it says there. When the words of a statute are
unambiguous, then, this first canon is also the last:
'judicial inquiry is complete.'") (citations
noted above, the relevant portion of Act 282 provides:
"This Act shall become effective November 1, 2017, and
shall have prospective application only to offenders whose
convictions became final on or after November 1, 2017."
2017 La. Acts 282, § 2. By contrast, Act 542 added new
Subsection (K) to R.S. 15:529.1:
K. (1) Except as provided in Paragraph (2) of this
Subsection, notwithstanding any provision of law to the
contrary, the court shall apply the provisions of this
Section that were in effect on the date that ...