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Date: 11-22-2020

Case Style:


Case Number: 20-80



Plaintiff's Attorney: J. Reed Walters
District Attorney

Defendant's Attorney:

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Jena, Louisiana - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant Harrison L. Lee with alleging that the sentences are excessive, not individualized to him, and that the consecutive nature is improper.

On December 14, 2017, the State filed a Bill of Information charging
Defendant, Harrison L. Lee, with three counts of distribution of methamphetamine,
violations of La.R.S. 40:964 Sch. II(C)(2) and 40:967(A)(1). Defendant initially
pled not guilty on January 8, 2018; however, on September 21, 2018, as part of a
blind plea, Defendant pled guilty to two counts of distribution of
methamphetamine. The third count was dismissed as part of the plea. The State
provided the following factual basis at the plea hearing:
[T]he defendant was in La Salle Parish on May 15, 2017[,] and
May 17, 2017, respectively. In both of those instances he uh, he came
into contact with an operative who was working for La Salle Parish
Sheriff’s Office. Uh, sold him methamphetamine in each of those
occasions. The uh, the methamphetamine that was received from him
was analyzed at the North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory. . . .
And it was determined to be methamphetamine.
After advising Defendant of his rights related to trial and being satisfied that
Defendant understood those rights, the trial court determined Defendant’s plea was
free and voluntary and accepted Defendant’s plea. A Pre-Sentence Investigation
(“PSI”) was then ordered.
On December 4, 2018, Defendant was sentenced to nine years at hard labor
on each count, the sentences to run consecutively. Defendant was also ordered to
pay court costs and one hundred and fifty dollars for the PSI preparation.
On December 6, 2018, counsel for Defendant filed a Motion to Reconsider
Sentence, which was set for hearing on February 5, 2019. Defendant also filed a
pro se Motion for Reconsideration of Sentence Pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. Article
881.1 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, dated January 2, 2019, which
was set for the same date. At the February 5, 2019 hearing, counsel was relieved
from representing Defendant due to a conflict of interest. The trial court then
denied Defendant’s pro se motion. On that same day, Defendant filed a Motion for
Appeal. The Motion to Reconsider Sentence filed by counsel was still pending
when the appeal was lodged.
On July 17, 2019, this court remanded the case to the trial court for
disposition on the counsel-filed Motion to Reconsider Sentence. See State v. Lee,
19-209 (La.App. 3 Cir. 7/17/2019) (unpublished opinion). Thereafter, the trial
court denied the motion on November 5, 2019.
Defendant now appeals the denial of the counsel-filed Motion to Reconsider
Sentence and asserts three assignments of error: (1) the trial court erred in
imposing consecutive nine-year sentences, which are excessive under the facts; (2)
the trial court failed to individualize the sentences to Defendant; and (3) the trial
court erred in imposing consecutive sentences in the absence of particular
justification therefore.
In accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are reviewed for
errors patent on the face of the record. After reviewing the record, we have
determined that there are no errors patent.
In State v. James, 15-414, pp. 2-4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/7/15), 175 So.3d 1176,
1178, writ denied, 15-2059 (La. 1/9/17), 208 So.3d 876, and writ denied, 15-2044
(La. 1/9/17), 214 So.3d 858, this court reiterated the standard for reviewing
excessive sentence claims:
[Louisiana Constitution Article] I, § 20 guarantees
that, “[n]o law shall subject any person to cruel or
unusual punishment.” To constitute an excessive
sentence, the reviewing court must find the penalty so
grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime as to
shock our sense of justice or that the sentence makes no
measurable contribution to acceptable penal goals and is,
therefore, nothing more than a needless imposition of
pain and suffering. The trial court has wide discretion in
the imposition of sentence within the statutory limits and
such sentence shall not be set aside as excessive absent a
manifest abuse of discretion. The relevant question is
whether the trial court abused its broad sentencing
discretion, not whether another sentence might have been
more appropriate.
State v. Barling, 00–1241, 00–1591, p. 12 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1/31/01),
779 So.2d 1035, 1042, writ denied, 01–838 (La.2/1/02), 808 So.2d
331 (citations omitted).
. . . .
Even though a penalty falls within the statutory sentencing
range, it may still be unconstitutionally excessive:
In deciding whether a sentence is shocking or
makes no meaningful contribution to acceptable penal
goals, an appellate court may consider several factors
including the nature of the offense, the circumstances of
the offender, the legislative purpose behind the
punishment and a comparison of the sentences imposed
for similar crimes. While a comparison of sentences
imposed for similar crimes may provide some insight, “it
is well settled that sentences must be individualized to
the particular offender and to the particular offense
committed.” Additionally, it is within the purview of the
trial court to particularize the sentence because the trial
judge “remains in the best position to assess the
aggravating and mitigating circumstances presented by
each case.”
State v. Smith, 02–719, p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/12/03), 846 So.2d 786,
789, writ denied, 03–562 (La.5/30/03), 845 So.2d 1061 (citations
omitted). “[T]he trial judge need not articulate every aggravating and
mitigating circumstance outlined in art. 894.1[;] the record must
reflect that he adequately considered these guidelines in
particularizing the sentence to the defendant.” State v. Smith, 433
So.2d 688, 698 (La.1983) (citing State v. Ray, 423 So.2d 1116
(La.1982); State v. Keeney, 422 So.2d 1144 (La.1982); State v.
Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982)). “[M]aximum sentences are
reserved for cases involving the most serious violations of the charged
offense and for the worst kind of offender.” State v. Quebedeaux, 424
So.2d 1009, 1014 (La.1982) (citing State v. Jones, 398 So.2d 1049
(La.1981)). “The appellate court shall not set aside a sentence for
excessiveness if the record supports the sentence imposed.” La.Code
Crim.P. art. 881.4(D).
In his first assignment of error, Defendant argues that consecutive nine-year
sentences are excessive considering he sold a small amount of methamphetamine
to a confidential informant who is also his friend. In his second assignment of
error, Defendant argues that his sentence is excessive because the trial court failed
to individualize his sentences as required by La.Code Crim.P. art. 894.1.
Defendant argues these assignments together and asserts that the aggregate
eighteen-year sentence is excessive considering all mitigating factors and
ameliorative changes. He asks that this court vacate the trial court’s order of
consecutive sentences and remand the case for the imposition of lesser concurrent
Defendant was convicted of two counts of distribution of methamphetamine,
an offense punishable by a minimum sentence of two years imprisonment and a
maximum sentence of thirty years imprisonment, in addition to a maximum fine of
fifty thousand dollars. See La.R.S. 40:967(B)(1)(eff. 8/15/08–7/31/17). 1

1 Louisiana Revised Statutes 40:967 was amended effective August 1, 2017. However,
Defendant committed these offenses in May of 2017, subjecting himself to the prior version of
La.R.S. 40:967, which provided a possible sentencing range of two to thirty years and a fine of
fifty thousand dollars.
Defendant was sentenced within the statutory range, his sentence being nine years
on each count, court costs, and one hundred and fifty dollars for the PSI
The general rule for concurrent versus consecutive sentences set forth in
La.Code Crim.P. art. 883:
If the defendant is convicted of two or more offenses based on
the same act or transaction, or constituting parts of a common scheme
or plan, the terms of imprisonment shall be served concurrently unless
the court expressly directs that some or all be served consecutively.
Other sentences of imprisonment shall be served consecutively unless
the court expressly directs that some or all of them be served
concurrently. In the case of the concurrent sentence, the judge shall
specify, and the court minutes shall reflect, the date from which the
sentences are to run concurrently.
Article 1, § 20 of the Louisiana Constitution prohibits excessive or unusual
punishment. The factual situation in this case fits what Article 1, § 20 is designed
to prevent. These two small transactions occurring only two days apart and
involving small amounts of methamphetamine constitute parts of a common
scheme. Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 883 directs that the terms
of imprisonment shall be concurrent unless the court expressly directs that they be
served consecutively.
In support of his request that the consecutive sentences should be vacated,
Defendant cites State v. Nixon, 51,319 (La.App. 2 Cir. 5/19/17), 222 So.3d 123,
writ denied, 17-966 (La. 4/27/18), 239 So.3d 836, wherein the Second Circuit
found that the consecutive nature of three, twenty-year sentences for three counts
of distribution of a small amount of controlled dangerous substance was excessive.
In Nixon, the defendant was convicted of two counts of distribution of marijuana
and one count of distribution of cocaine to a confidential informant for a combined
sum of less than $100; the trial court imposed twenty-year sentences on each count
to run consecutively—an aggregate sentence of sixty years, and a de facto life
sentence for the forty-two-year-old defendant. The second circuit held that,
although the sentences were not unconstitutionally excessive, the trial court’s order
that the sentences imposed be served consecutively was unconstitutionally
excessive. The second circuit reasoned that the sixty-year sentence was
disproportionate to the offenses and imposed a purposeless and needless infliction
of pain and suffering.
It is undisputed that on May 15, 2018, and May 17, 2018, Defendant sold
methamphetamine to his friend and confidential informant, Jason Kittlin. Although
the substance was not weighed by the North Louisiana Crime Lab, the current
record indicates that the informant purchased methamphetamine from Defendant
for fifty-five dollars on May 15th and no more than one hundred dollars on May
The trial court stated that it considered La.Code Crim.P. art. 894.1 along
with Defendant’s criminal history and individual circumstances. The trial court
noted: “That’s not a record, necessarily, of a guy who is going on the straight and
narrow. By my count, since 1983 you have been arrested or sited [sic] at least
fifty-two times. For criminal activity. That’s unacceptable[.]” Additionally, the
trial court noted that the PSI is “unremarkable” as it pertains to Defendant’s social
history. Defendant is the oldest of five siblings and the father of three children.
Further, Defendant studied carpentry at trade school; the trial court considered
Defendant a potential “productive member of society, if [he] so chooses[s],” since
Defendant stated that he had no problem finding a job. Finally, the trial court
2 The record indicates that the informant was given one hundred dollars to negotiate the
purchase of methamphetamine from Defendant on May 17, but the exact amount used in the
purchase is not indicated.
observed: “You are showing zero remorse and responsibility for the steps that you
Although the trial court focused on the length of Defendant’s criminal record,
we note on appeal that the convicted offenses involving controlled substances are
over fifteen years old. Additionally, many of the offenses show dispositions of
nolle prossed, no record found, no disposition, or dismissed. Furthermore,
Defendant has held employment and has trade school education, supporting the
idea that he can be a productive member of society. Defendant was fifty-seven
years old at the time of sentencing and was sentenced to a total of eighteen years
Also pertinent to our decision, this court recognizes the ameliorative changes
that became effective approximately two months after Defendant committed the
offenses herein. As noted in State v. McGowan, 17-623, p. 12 (La.App. 3 Cir.
12/06/17), 258 So.3d 609, 616, “Though not required to do so, the trial court is
permitted to consider the ameliorative changes enacted by the 2017 amendment to
the penalty provision in keeping with the spirit of the reforms articulated.” These
2017 changes reduced the sentencing for distribution of methamphetamine sold in
certain quantities. A review of those changes is instructive.
Effective August 1, 2017, La.R.S. 40:967 was amended and the sentence for
distribution of methamphetamine became dependent on the weight of the substance.
The new law provides for sentences from one to ten years imprisonment and a fine
of up to fifty thousand dollars when the aggregate weight of the controlled
substance is less than twenty-eight grams, and a sentence of one to twenty years
and a fine of up to fifty thousand dollars when the aggregate weight is more than
twenty-eight grams. This is a significant change from the previous language,
which sentenced all offenders, regardless of the substance’s weight, to not less than
two or more than thirty years imprisonment and a fine of up to fifty thousand
These changes were made in response to the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment
Task Force’s findings and the effort to reduce prison populations in Louisiana,
especially the population convicted of less serious crimes. See Louisiana’s Justice
Reinvestment Reforms Practitioner’s Guide, August 1, 2017. In 2017, the
Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force evaluated Louisiana’s corrections
systems. In their report, the task force noted Louisiana’s leading position in the
nation for imprisonment and Louisiana’s propensity to imprison nonviolent
offenders at a rate one and a half to three times the rate of neighboring states with
similar crime rates. The task force proposed reforms to the legislature that would
reduce the prison population while simultaneously saving Louisiana millions of
dollars. Some of these reforms were incorporated into the Justice Reinvestment
package consisting of ten bills, which were passed in the Louisiana House and
Senate and signed into law by the governor on June 15, 2017. Senate Bill 220,
which was enacted as 2017 La. Acts No. 281 amending La.R.S. 40:967 as
discussed above, was one of those bills.
We recognize that the trial court has discretion in sentencing and under
La.Code Crim.P. art. 883. However, even the trial court recognized the need and
possibility for rehabilitation of Defendant when it commented that he be housed in
a facility that offers addictive disorder programs. Thus, following the guidance of
Nixon, 222 So.3d 123, and considering the time frame of the occurrences, La. Code
Crim.P. art. 883, 2017 La. Acts No. 281, and the findings supporting the
reformation of La.R.S. 40:967, we find that the imposition of consecutive
sentences in this case “is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime as to
shock our sense of justice” and “makes no measurable contribution to acceptable
penal goals[.]” Barling,779 So.2d at 1042.
Considering this conclusion, Defendant’s third assignment of error need not
be addressed.

Outcome: We find merit in Defendant’s assertion that the consecutive nature of his
sentences is excessive; thus, we vacate the sentences in part and remand the matter
to the trial court with instructions to impose concurrent sentences.

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