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State v. Lyles

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 22, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
HENRI PIERRE LYLES

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE FIFTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEAL, PARISH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST

          PER CURIAM. [*]

         We 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.

         On 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. Defendant appealed.

         On 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.[1] 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.

         Defendant 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).

         The 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 without benefits.
. . . .
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.

         The 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 omitted).

         As 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 ...

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