Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.
Help support the publication of case reports on MoreLaw
State of Louisiana v. Brandy Shackelford
Case Number: 53,165-KA
Judge: Jeff R. Thompson
Court: COURT OF APPEAL SECOND CIRCUIT STATE OF LOUISIANA
Plaintiff's Attorney: JAMES E. STEWART, SR.
WILLIAM J. EDWARDS
TOMMY J. JOHNSON
Assistant District Attorneys
Need help finding a lawyer for representation concerning an excessive sentence appeal in Louisiana?
Call 918-582-6422. It's Free.
On May 26, 2016, law enforcement officers responded to a 911 call of
alleged child abuse1 regarding a two-year-old male, R.M. According to the
officers, the child’s skin condition looked pale, and he acted lethargic. The
fire department offered to transport R.M. to the hospital multiple times, but
the family declined. Subsequently, R.M.’s grandmother took R.M. and the
other children back to her house that evening. Shackelford was taken into
custody and charged with two counts of cruelty to a juvenile.2 In the early
morning of May 27, 2016, R.M. was rushed to the hospital due to trouble
1 The record reflects that certain parts of the record were placed under seal. Thus, due to the sensitivity surrounding R.M.’s death, the Court will not discuss the details of R.M.’s injuries.
2 Criminal Docket No. 341,224.
breathing. The hospital was unable to revive R.M. The cause of death was
determined to be a homicide.
Shackelford was indicted by a grand jury and subsequently charged in
a separate docket number with manslaughter,3 in violation of La. R.S. 14:31,
committed without intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, while
committing a simple battery. On November 13, 2018, Shackelford appeared
before the trial court to accept the state’s plea offer, which was recited into
the record. The state offered that if Shackelford pled guilty to manslaughter,
the state would not seek the mandatory sentencing range that would apply
because R.M. was under the age of 10 when he died. That would reduce
Shackelford’s potential sentence of 10-40 years at hard labor, without
benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, to 0-40 years, with no
restriction of benefits. Additionally, the state would dismiss the two counts
of cruelty to a juvenile that were still pending.
Judge O’Callaghan began the guilty plea colloquy with questions to
Shackelford, who stated that she was born in 1984, had completed the 12th
grade, and could read, write, and understand the English language.
Shackelford said that she was not under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or
medication, except for the medication she is prescribed for a mental health
disorder. Judge O’Callaghan reviewed the terms of the plea offer with
Shackelford and the sentencing range for the charge of manslaughter.
Shackelford confirmed that she had discussed the charges, sentencing range,
and plea terms with her attorney.
3 Criminal Docket No. 341,382.
Judge O’Callaghan then proceeded to review and discuss the rights
that Shackelford would waive if she elected to plead guilty. Shackelford
confirmed that she understood she would waive her right to a jury or judge
trial and to have the state prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt; her right
to confront and cross-examine witnesses against her; her right to compulsory
process; her right to remain silent; and her right to appeal her conviction.
Judge O’Callaghan noted that as there was no agreed-upon sentence,
Shackelford would retain her right to appeal any sentence imposed.
Shackelford stated that, other than the state’s plea offer, she was not
given any promises or inducements to plead guilty and was not threatened or
forced to plead guilty. Judge O’Callaghan stated that the factual basis for
the plea was that Shackelford committed a simple battery on the victim,
without intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, but the victim still died as a
result of her actions. Shackelford agreed with the factual basis for the plea
and stated that she wished to plead guilty. Judge O’Callaghan accepted
Shackelford’s guilty plea as knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made.
A presentence investigation report was ordered.
On January 7, 2019, Shackelford appeared for sentencing. R.M.’s
grandmother testified about him, and the developmental obstacles that he
had to overcome after being born prematurely and requiring breathing
treatments and corrective shoes. Judge O’Callaghan acknowledged that he
had received and reviewed victim impact letters from family as well as the
presentence investigation report. The state also introduced a copy of the
grand jury testimony offered by the forensic pathologist who conducted
R.M.’s autopsy. The trial judge reviewed all documents.
Judge O’Callaghan stated that after considering the circumstances of
the crime and other evidence presented in the pretrial hearing, including the
testimony of a neonatologist and R.M.’s siblings, he was considering a
sentencing range of 5-30 years, based on the pattern of neglect and abuse,
and Shackelford’s willingness to plead guilty and spare the family the ordeal
Judge O’Callaghan found that a suspended or probated sentence
would be inappropriate in the matter, given the circumstances and the
gravity of Shackelford’s correctional needs. He then reviewed the
sentencing guidelines under La. C. Cr. P. art. 894.1, and found applicable the
following aggravating factors.
First, Judge O’Callaghan noted that Shackelford showed deliberate
cruelty to the victim, where the forensic pathologist testified that R.M.
suffered a duodenal transection, a forceful and painful injury resulting from
blunt abdominal trauma, and she failed to properly respond and get him
treatment. Second, Shackelford knew, as the child’s mother and primary
caregiver, that R.M. was particularly vulnerable, given his troubled birth and
the obstacles he had endured. Third, Shackelford used actual violence in the
commission of the crime, which resulted in a significant injury that caused
R.M.’s death. Fourth, Shackelford had a history of neglectful abuse and of
prioritizing her drug use above the child’s welfare. Last, as a final
aggravating factor, the trial court found that, while Shackelford had accepted
legal responsibility, she had not done so psychologically as she believed that
she was somehow wronged, and that the criminal responsibility fell on her
and not on other members of the household.
Judge O’Callaghan noted as mitigating factors that Shackelford did
not intend to kill the child, that she had no history of prior criminal
convictions, and that she suffered some impairment due to mental health
Judge O’Callaghan sentenced Shackelford to serve 25 years at hard
labor, with credit for time served. He ordered the sentence to run
concurrently to any other sentence and designated the conviction as a crime
of violence. He advised Shackelford that she had 30 days to appeal her
sentence and two years from the finality of the conviction and sentence to
file for post-conviction relief. The state dismissed the two counts of cruelty
to a juvenile that remained pending, and the mandatory sentencing
provisions of the sentence being without the benefit of probation, parole, or
suspension of sentence were also removed, meaning Shackelford would now
be eligible for consideration for the possibility of those provisions.
On January 11, 2019, Shackelford filed a motion to reconsider
sentence. She asked the trial court to reconsider her sentence in light of her
age, 34, her lack of substantial criminal history, and her mental health issues.
Judge O’Callaghan denied the motion on April 15, 2019, noting that he had
given careful consideration to her circumstances and the circumstances of
the case, and had given the previously detailed reasons explaining why the
sentence imposed was appropriate. This appeal ensued.
In her assignment of error, Shackelford argues the trial court erred in
imposing a constitutionally harsh and excessive sentence, given the
4 While in jail, Shackelford was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
circumstances of this case. On review, Shackelford argues that she has a
deprived and unstable background based on self-medication with illicit
drugs, and now has been diagnosed with two mental health disorders. She
argues that courts have recognized that defendants with mental health issues
have a diminished capacity to understand and process information and that
this circumstance diminished her personal culpability. In support of this
argument, Shackelford cites Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S. Ct.
2242, 153 L. Ed. 2d 335 (2002), in which the United States Supreme Court
held that executions of criminals “suffering from a mental disability”
constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth
Amendment. Shackelford argues that, given her mental illnesses, 25 years at
hard labor was constitutionally excessive.
The state argues that the sentence was not excessive in light of R.M.’s
death due to the painful blunt force trauma caused by Shackelford,
Shackelford’s pattern of drug abuse and child neglect, and the substantial
benefit that Shackelford received by pleading guilty and receiving a reduced
sentencing exposure and the dismissal of two other charges. The state
argues that the sentence was well within the sentencing range, was within
the trial court’s discretion, and was not a shock to the sense of justice.
La. R.S. 14:31 provides that manslaughter is:
(A)(1) A homicide which would be murder under either Article 30 (first degree murder) or Article 30.1 (second degree murder), but the offense is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the jury finds that the offender’s blood had actually cooled, or that an average person’s blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed; or
(2) A homicide committed, without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm.
(a) When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any felony not enumerated in Article 30 or 30.1, or of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person; or
(b) When the offender is resisting lawful arrest by means, or in a manner, not inherently dangerous, and the circumstances are such that the killing would not be murder under Article 30 or 30.1.
B. Whoever commits manslaughter shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not more than forty years. However, if the victim killed was under the age of ten years, the offender shall be imprisoned at hard labor, without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, for not less than ten years nor more than forty years.
An excessive sentence claim is reviewed by examining whether the
trial court adequately considered the guidelines established in La. C. Cr. P.
art. 894.1, and whether the sentence is constitutionally excessive. State v.
Wing, 51,857 (La. App. 2 Cir. 02/28/18), 246 So. 3d 711; State v. Gardner,
46,688 (La. App. 2 Cir. 11/02/11), 77 So. 3d 1052.
A review of the sentencing guidelines does not require a listing of
every aggravating or mitigating circumstance. State v. Boehm, 51,229 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 04/05/17), 217 So. 3d 596; State v. Cunningham, 46,664 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 11/02/11), 77 So. 3d 477, writ not cons., 2016-0729 (La.
06/03/16), 192 So. 3d 758. When the defendant’s motion to reconsider
sentence raises only a claim that the sentence imposed was constitutionally
excessive, review of the sentence on appeal is restricted to that claim. La. C.
Cr. P. art. 881.1; State v. Williams, 51,667 (La. App. 2 Cir. 09/27/17), 245
So. 3d 131, writ not cons., 2018-0017 (La. 08/03/18), 248 So. 3d 322; State
v. Turner, 50,221 (La. App. 2 Cir. 01/20/16), 186 So. 3d 720, writ denied,
16-0283 (La. 02/10/17), 215 So. 3d 700.
A sentence violates La. Const. art. I, § 20, if it is grossly out of
proportion to the seriousness of the offense or nothing more than a
purposeless and needless infliction of pain and suffering. State v. Dorthey,
623 So. 2d 1276 (La. 1993); State v. Boehm, supra. A sentence is
considered grossly disproportionate if, when the crime and punishment are
viewed in light of the harm done to society, it shocks the sense of justice.
State v. Weaver, 2001-0467 (La. 01/15/02), 805 So. 2d 166; State v. Wing,
supra. Here, an innocent child relying on the care provided by his mother
was made to suffer and die at her hands.
The trial court must state for the record the consideration taken into
account and the factual basis for the sentence imposed. La. C. Cr. P. art.
894.1(C). The trial court must consider the defendant’s personal history, the
defendant’s criminal record, the seriousness of the offense, and the
likelihood of rehabilitation. State v. Boehm, supra. There is no requirement
that specific matters be given any particular weight at sentencing. Id. All
convictions and all prior criminal activity may be considered as well as other
evidence normally excluded from the trial. State v. Platt, 43,708 (La. App. 2
Cir. 12/03/08), 998 So. 2d 864, writ denied, 09-0265 (La. 11/06/09), 21 So.
The trial court has wide discretion in imposing a sentence within the
statutory limits, so absent a showing of abuse of that discretion, such a
sentence will not be set aside as excessive. State v. Mandigo, 48,801 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 02/26/14), 136 So. 3d 292, writ denied, 14-0630 (La. 10/24/14),
151 So. 3d 600. The reviewing court does not determine whether another
sentence would have been more appropriate, but whether the trial court
abused its discretion. State v. Jackson, 48,534 (La. App. 2 Cir. 01/15/14),
130 So. 3d 993; State v. Esque, 46,515 (La. App. 2 Cir. 09/21/11), 73 So. 3d
1021, writ denied, 11-2347 (La. 03/09/12), 84 So. 3d 551.
Application of law to facts:
Review of the record discloses no abuse of discretion regarding the
sentence imposed. The 25 year sentence was within the statutory limits of
the 0-40 years offered by the state’s plea agreement and was not a
maximum, nor a near-maximum sentence. The trial court took cognizance
of the criteria set forth in La. C. Cr. P. art. 894.1, and carefully detailed the
aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case.
The trial court noted the defendant’s lack of criminal history and her
history of drug abuse and her mental health issues. The trial court also
considered the circumstances of R.M.’s birth and developmental difficulties,
Shackelford’s history of neglect toward her children, the injuries that R.M.
suffered, and R.M.’s resulting death. The trial court reviewed letters and
testimony by R.M.’s family members.
The state’s plea offer afforded Shackelford a great deal of leniency in
sentencing by reducing her sentencing exposure and dismissing two other
criminal charges. Additionally, the trial court offered some leniency in
sentencing because Shackelford took legal responsibility by pleading guilty
and not causing the family to endure a trial. Regardless of whether
Shackelford’s situation was one that warranted any leniency, where she
suffered from mental health issues only recently diagnosed, the state and the
trial court clearly allowed for such considerations in providing her with a
reduced sentencing exposure and a sentence significantly less than the term
that could have been imposed. It is clear that the sentence imposed was
tailored to the offender and the offense. Thus, the sentence imposed here is
not out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense and does not shock the
sense of justice. Shackelford’s assignment of error is without merit. We
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, Shackelford’s conviction and sentence are