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STATE OF LOUISIANA VERSUS WILLIE R. SANDERS, JR.
Case Number: KA -0020-0359
Judge: Candyce Perret
Court: STATE OF LOUISIANA
COURT OF APPEAL, THIRD CIRCUIT
Plaintiff's Attorney: Phillip Terrell, Jr.
Catherine L. Davidson
Assistant District Attorney
Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory
Lake Charles, LA - Criminal defense attorney represented Willie R. Sanders, Jr. with one count of aggravated assault with a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon charges
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 find that
there is one error patent regarding the sentence imposed.
After ordering Defendant to serve six years at hard labor for his conviction
of aggravated assault with a firearm, the trial judge ordered Defendant to pay a
$10,000.00 fine. Noting that Defendant was indigent and in jail, the trial judge
ordered Defendant to serve “a year in lieu of the fine.” The trial judge ordered the
year to run concurrently with the six-year-hard-labor sentence. Further explaining,
the trial judge stated:2
BY THE COURT:
All right. You have, you have a def - - well the default’s gonna
be a year, and I’m just gonna have him serve the default time, and
that’s gonna run concurrent with the six year sentence.
. . . .
I’m gonna give you the one year for the default and the six years for
the aggravated assault and then, they’re, they’re gonna run concurrent.
In addition to the trial judge’s notation that Defendant was indigent, we note
that Defendant was represented by the Public Defender’s office at trial and is
represented by the Louisiana Appellate Project on appeal. This court has found
this to be presumptive evidence of indigence. See State v. Mallette, 15-1131
(La.App. 3 Cir. 6/8/16), 193 So.3d 603, writ denied, 16-1301 (La. 6/16/17), 221
So.3d 837; State v. Holloway, 10-74 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/6/10), 47 So.3d 56.
In State v. Major, 03-249, pp. 2-3 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/2/05), 898 So.2d 548,
550-51, this court explained:
It is well-settled that “[a]n indigent person may not be
incarcerated because he is unable to pay a fine which is part of his
sentence. Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 103 S.Ct. 2064, 76
L.Ed.2d 221 (1983).” State v. Zabaleta, 96-2449, p. 1 (La.3/7/97),
689 So.2d 1369. The need for incarceration raises an issue when fines
or costs are not paid, because La.Code Crim.P. art. 884 requires that,
when a trial court imposes a fine or costs, it must also impose a
specified term of imprisonment in the event Defendant defaults on
payment of the fine or costs. Because an indigent person may not be
incarcerated for failure to pay a fine, the supreme court has vacated
“the portion of . . . [a] sentence which provides for a jail term in the
event of default of payment of a fine . . . .” Zabaleta, 689 So.2d 1369.
Since Defendant is indigent, the trial court was not authorized to order
default time for Defendant’s failure to pay the fine. However, we note it can be
argued that the one year imposed as default time is not an “additional” one year
since it is ordered to run concurrently with the six-year-hard-labor sentence. In
State v. Essex, 618 So.2d 574, 578 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1993), the court found no
correction was needed when the trial court ran the default time concurrently with 3
the hard labor sentence. See also State v. Smith, 47,890 (La.App. 2 Cir. 5/22/13),
114 So.3d 1229, (the court found no correction was needed when the defendant
was not represented by the Indigent Defender’s office at the time of sentencing and
since the parish jail time was ordered to run concurrently with the twenty-five-year
sentence, with credit for time already served).
Contrarily, other cases have ordered the default time for an indigent
defendant be deleted even when it is ordered to run concurrently with the
underlying sentence. See State v. Warren, 28,889, 28,890 (La.App. 2 Cir.
12/11/96), 712 So.2d 500; State v. Pratt, 50,152 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/30/15), 184
So.3d 816, writ denied, 16-123 (La. 1/25/17), 215 So.3d 262; State v. Holloway,
10-74 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/6/10), 47 So.3d 56; State v. Breakfield, 44,605 (La.App. 2
Cir. 9/23/09), 21 So.3d 1014. Since these cases are the majority, with one of the
cases being from our own circuit, we hereby delete the portion of Defendant’s
sentence requiring him to serve one year in default time.1
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE:
Defendant claims the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to convict
him of aggravated assault with a firearm. Specifically, Defendant contends that the
victim, Ms. Humphrey, did not testify that Defendant attempted to commit a
battery nor that he intentionally placed her in reasonable apprehension of receiving
a battery. Defendant acknowledges that Ms. Humphrey testified that she was
scared, but he points out that she was not scared to the point of leaving. He
contends that her unsupported testimony, contradicted at trial by his testimony, was
insufficient to support his conviction for aggravated assault with a firearm.
In briefing its response to Defendant’s excessive sentence claim, the State notes that the
one year default time may be improper considering Defendant is represented by the Louisiana
Appellate Project. However, the State contends that even if improper, the imposition of the fine
itself is not improper. 4
Aggravated assault with a firearm is defined in La.R.S. 14:37.4 as “an
assault committed with a firearm.” An assault is defined in La.R.S. 14:36 as “an
attempt to commit a battery, or the intentional placing of another in reasonable
apprehension of receiving a battery.” A battery is defined in pertinent part as “the
intentional use of force or violence upon the person of another[.]” La.R.S. 14:33.
At trial, Aaliyah Humphrey, the victim, testified that her cousin, Aneyka
Gentle, and her cousin’s one year old baby were at her house prior to their
encounter with Defendant. At Ms. Gentle’s request, Ms. Humphrey drove Ms.
Gentle and the baby to Taco Bell to get something to eat. After ordering food at
the drive thru, they drove up to the window. The baby was in a baby seat in the
back seat of the car, but he was not strapped in. As they pulled up to the window
to pay for the food, a car pulled up behind them, and Defendant, the father of the
baby, approached their vehicle. Ms. Humphrey testified that as Defendant was
arguing with Ms. Gentle, she saw him pull the baby through the partially lowered
backseat window. Defendant then got in the car behind them with the baby and
left. Ms. Gentle asked the victim to follow Defendant, which she did. The two
women were worried about the baby’s safety due to the driver’s “crazy” driving at
a high rate of speed while running stop signs and red lights. Ms. Humphrey, not
wanting to get a ticket for running red lights and stop signs, testified that she chose
to stop following the vehicle. At Ms. Gentle’s direction, she proceeded to a
residence on Canal Street after Ms. Gentle learned from her mother where the baby
had been taken by Defendant.
Upon arriving at the residence, Ms. Humphrey stayed in the car while Ms.
Gentle entered the house. About five to ten minutes later, Ms. Gentle came out of
the house upset and crying and asked for Ms. Humphrey’s phone so she could call
her mother. As Ms. Gentle re-approached the house, Defendant came outside with 5
an AK-47 assault rifle described by Ms. Humphrey as having a short stock with a
brown handle. It had an extended clip on it which contained “a lot of bullets.” Ms.
Humphrey testified that Defendant “comes [sic] and aims at me” and repeatedly
yelled at her “to get the ‘f’ from in front of his house” before he shot her. When
asked if Defendant said anything about shooting the car, Ms. Humphrey said he
said he was going to shoot the car if she did not leave from in front of his house.
She described the Defendant’s approach as “angry” before he stuck the gun in her
face. Ms. Humphrey testified that she was scared. She told Ms. Gentle to bring
her phone back so she could leave. When she did this, Defendant grabbed the
phone from Ms. Gentle’s hand and threw it far down the street. Ms. Humphrey
drove down the street and retrieved her phone, which was shattered but useable.
Ms. Gentle got back in the car and Defendant chased the car as they fled to call
police. Defendant still had the gun, which he pointed at them as they were fleeing.
Ms. Humphrey confirmed that she continued to feel her life was threatened. She
contacted police and had no further involvement in the situation.
Devn Cates, a former officer with the Alexandria Police Department,
testified that he responded to the Canal Street residence (owned by Kenny Dixon,
Sr., a place Defendant stayed frequently) in reference to Defendant breaking a
phone and chasing the victim with a firearm. Defendant acknowledged that the
gun that was located in the home was his, and he had owned the gun for
approximately a year. He denied using it in the incident with Ms. Humphrey.
However, information Officer Cates received during his investigation led him to
believe that Defendant did in fact use the gun on Ms. Humphrey. He was informed
by another officer that the victim stated that Defendant threatened to “shoot up” the
people inside the vehicle; he then chased them down the road with the firearm. He
subsequently arrested Defendant for aggravated assault with a firearm. 6
Corporal Kerry Simmons of the Alexandria Police Department also
responded to the Canal Street residence. He found a loaded gun similar to that
described by Ms. Humphrey under a mattress in the bedroom where Defendant
Defendant testified that at the time of the incident he was living at 906 Canal
Street. He confirmed that he had a child with Aneyka Gentle, and that on the day
in question, he was at Taco Bell when he saw his son jumping up and down in the
back seat of the car in front of him. He approached the car and asked Ms. Gentle
where she was going. She told him she was going to Humphrey’s house, and
Defendant told her he did not want his baby going there because he did not want
him around her [presumably Ms. Humphrey]. Defendant testified that there was
no car seat in the car, and when he asked Ms. Gentle to give him the baby, she
handed him the baby through the window. He went back to the car he was in, and
when Ms. Humphrey attempted to get the baby back from him, he told her no.
Defendant said Ms. Humphrey and Ms. Gentle left, and he pulled out behind them
and went home. Defendant then spoke with Ms. Gentle’s mother on the phone,
and she told him to keep the baby there and that she was going to come get him.
Before police arrived, Ms. Humphrey and Ms. Gentle arrived, and Defendant and
Ms. Gentle argued. Defendant admitted he took the phone from Ms. Gentle, threw
it down, and broke it. According to Defendant, the argument and his throwing of
the phone happened inside the house while Ms. Humphrey was outside in her car.
Defendant testified that he told the two ladies to leave, but he denied using a gun.
He then testified that he had the assault rifle in his hand when he went outside and
told the two ladies to leave. He denied pointing the gun and he said he was
incapable of running due to a leg injury. According to Defendant, when he went
outside with the gun, the two ladies left. He testified that he was on the phone with 7
Ms. Gentle’s mother, Priscilla Gentle, the “whole time.” Defendant denied that
any erratic driving occurred.
On cross-examination, when Defendant was asked why he grabbed the
phone and threw it, he said, “‘Cause that’s what I did. It wasn’t no whying to it.”
Defendant denied ever feeling threatened by the two ladies, and when asked why
he brought his gun outside, he responded, “Don’t remember - - don’t know why. . .
Don’t know why. Just did it.” He testified that he carries guns around frequently
because he has been shot before. He then testified that Ms. Humphrey never got
out of her car, and that “[he] never came out the house all the way fully with the
gun.” On re-direct exam, Defendant denied ever pointing the weapon at anyone.
In Mallette, 193 So. 3d at 606, this court set forth well-settled law:
When the issue of sufficiency of evidence is raised
on appeal, the critical inquiry of the reviewing court is
whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact
could have found the essential elements of the crime
proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979);
State ex rel. Graffagnino v. King, 436 So.2d 559
(La.1983); State v. Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982);
State v. Moody, 393 So.2d 1212 (La.1981). It is the role
of the fact finder to weigh the respective credibilities
[sic] of the witnesses, and therefore, the appellate court
should not second guess the credibility determinations of
the trier of fact beyond the sufficiency evaluations under
the Jackson standard of review. See Graffagnino, 436
So.2d at 563, citing State v. Richardson, 425 So.2d 1228
(La.1983). To obtain a conviction, the elements of the
crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
State v. Freeman, 01-997, pp. 2-3 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/12/01), 801
So.2d 578, 580.
Furthermore, the testimony of a single witness is
sufficient to support a conviction “[i]n the absence of
internal contradiction or irreconcilable conflicts with
physical evidence.” State v. Dixon, 04-1019, p. 12
(La.App. 5 Cir. 3/15/05), 900 So.2d 929, 936. The trier
of fact may accept or reject the testimony of any witness,
and the determination of the credibility of that witness, in 8
whole or in part, is left to its sound discretion and “will
not be re-weighed on appeal.” Id. at 936.
State v. F.B.A., 07-1526, pp. 1-2 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/28/08), 983 So.2d
1006, 1009, writ denied, 08-1464 (La.3/27/09), 5 So.3d 138.
We find that the State proved the elements of aggravated assault beyond a
reasonable doubt. Ms. Humphrey, the victim, testified that Defendant was angry
when he pointed the gun at her face, and she was scared. He threatened to shoot
her and the car in which she and Ms. Gentle were riding. Ms. Humphrey
confirmed that she continued to feel her life was threatened when Defendant
pointed the gun at them as they were fleeing. We find the evidence established,
beyond a reasonable doubt, that the victim was intentionally placed in reasonable
apprehension of receiving a battery.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER TWO:
Defendant claims his six-year sentence is excessive as the only aggravating
circumstances considered were the use of a firearm and the making of threats,
elements of the offense. Although the trial court stated Defendant’s actions
manifested deliberate cruelty to the victim, Defendant contends none of his actions
manifested deliberate cruelty and neither the victim, nor her property, were in any
way injured. Aggravated assault with a firearm carries a maximum fine of ten
thousand dollars and a ten year term of imprisonment with or without hard labor.
Prior to imposing Defendant’s sentence, the judge stated:
All right. All right, Mr. Sanders’ criminal history, although not
lengthy, does reveal a history, um, beginning when he was around
seventeen years of age. The Court would specifically note that most
of his felony arrests are for crimes against persons, cruelty to
juveniles, uh, that was from August the 23rd of 2012. That matter was
no cased. Assault by drive by shooting that was from September the
15th of 2012. That matter was nolle prossed. Attempted first degree
murder from May the 8th of 2013. That matter was nolle prossed.
Um, Mr. Sanders has only, has only a felony arrest, has a felony arrest
for illegal possession of a stolen firearm. That was from April the 5th
of 2013. This matter was nolle prossed. Um, Mr. Sanders’ first and 9
only conviction was for a conspiracy to commit second degree
robbery. He was originally arrested and charged with armed robbery,
however, pursuant to, to the plea, the matter was reduced to
conspiracy to commit second degree robbery and defendant was
placed on probation. It would appear that, uh, Mr. Sanders was
successful on probation as he was never brought up for revocation
hearing during his three years on probation. The defendant was
arrested on the instant offense on March the 7th of 2019. He
subsequently was relieved of his bond obligation on August the 1st of
2019 due to not having a 230.1 bond hearing. While released and one
month before his trial on this case, Mr. Sanders was arrested on June
the 6th of 2020 for one count of illegal possession of a stolen firearm
and one count of felon in possession of a firearm. Thus, while not a
lengthy, uh, criminal history, Mr. Sanders does have a history of guns
and violence against persons. All right.
Okay. The sentencing - - the aggravated [sic] and mitigating
factors under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 894.1,
when a defendant has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, the
Court should impose a sentence of imprisonment if any of the
following occur: there is undue risk that during the period of
suspended sentence or probation, the defendant will commit another
crime; the defendant is in need of correctional treatment or a custodial
environment that can be provided most effectively by his commitment
to an institution; a lesser sentence will deprecate, deprecate the
seriousness of the, of the crime. (As read)
The court notes that the following aggravated [sic] factors: the
def, the offender’s conduct during the commission of the offense
manifested deliberate cruelty to the victim; the offender used threats
or actual violence in the commission of the offense; the offender used
a dangerous weapon; the offender used a firearm while committing
the offense which has, as an element, use of or threatened use of
physical force against the person or property of another which by it’s
[sic] very nature involves a substantial risk that physical force may be
used in the course of committing the offense. (As read) . . . .
. . . .
Okay. Thank you. All right. The Court doesn’t find any other
mitigating factors. All right. Sentencing ranges. Um State v. Martin,
17-1100, La. App. 1st Cir., um, 2/27/2018, 243 So.3d 56; sentence ten
years at hard labor, no fine. Defendant became upset with his brother,
one of the victims, over being kicked out of his brother’s house. Four
months after being kicked out, defendant drives to his father’s house
where his brother and another brother were visiting. Defendant gets
out of a truck, goes up to brother and threatens to beat him up and kill
him. Defendant shoves brother. Other brother and dad try to stop
defendant. Defendant goes to his truck, puts a gun - - excuse me - - in
his back pocket, walks it back to brother. Defendant again shoves
brother, and father and brother try to stop defendant. Defendant then 10
pulls gun from pocket, points gun directly at brother’s forehead and
continues to tell him he’s gonna kill him. Okay. . . . State v. Brown,
17-124, La.App. 4th Cir., 12/12/17, 234 So.3d 978; sentence five years
at hard labor and Ten Thousand Dollar fine. The facts: defendant
hired victim to do contractor work. Defendant paid victim with a
check. The victim tried to cash the check but bank denied, um, due to
insufficient funds. Victim followed defendant in his vehicle to
discuss the bounced check. Defendant pulled over and victim pulled
over behind defendant. Defendant exited his truck and approached
victim’s vehicle. Defendant opened victim’s vehicle and plus, placed
a gun in his side. A verbal argument ensued. Defendant cocked the
weapon during the argument. In sentencing the defendant, the trial
judge cited defendant’s failure to accept responsibility for his actions,
the violent and senseless nature of the crime and the use of a
dangerous weapon in the commission of the crime. Further, the judge
expressed her belief that if the sentence was suspended or probated,
there was undue risk that during the period of suspended sentence or
probation, the defendant would reoffend. The judge opined the
defendant would not likely respond affirmatively to probation, that he
was in need of correctional treatment in a custodial environment
which would be best, um, which would be best be provided by a
commitment to an institution and that a lesser sentence would
deprecate the seriousness of the offense. All right. Okay.
Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 881.1(E) states:
Failure to make or file a motion to reconsider sentence or to
include a specific ground upon which a motion to reconsider sentence
may be based, including a claim of excessiveness, shall preclude the
state or the defendant from raising an objection to the sentence or
from urging any ground not raised in the motion on appeal or review.
Accordingly, Defendant could be precluded from appealing his sentence.
However, in State v. Samuel, 19-408, pp. 18-20 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/5/20), 291 So.3d
256, 268-69, writ denied, 20-398 (La. 7/24/20), 299 So.3d 77, this court noted:
This court has, however, previously reviewed claims of
excessiveness where no motion to reconsider sentence was filed or
objection made, performing a bare excessiveness review. See State v.
Debarge, 17-670 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/7/18), 238 So.3d 491; State v.
Price, 16-899 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/5/17), 216 So.3d 304; State v.
Soriano, 15-1006 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/1/16), 192 So.3d 899, writ denied,
16-1523 (La. 6/5/17), 219 So.3d 1111; State v. Jackson, 14-9
(La.App. 3 Cir. 6/18/14), 146 So.3d 631, writ denied, 14-1544 (La.
2/27/15), 159 So.3d 1066.
Louisiana courts have laid out the following guidelines with
regard to excessive sentence review:11
Sentences within the statutory sentencing range
can be reviewed for constitutional excessiveness. State v.
Sepulvado, 367 So.2d 762 (La.1979). In State v. Barling,
00-1241, 00-1591, p. 12 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1/31/01), 779
So.2d 1035, 1042-43, writ denied, 01-838 (La. 2/1/02),
808 So.2d 331, a panel of this court discussed the review
of excessive sentence claims, stating:
La. Const. art. 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. State v. Campbell, 404 So.2d
1205 (La.1981). 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. State v.
Etienne, 99-192 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/13/99),
746 So.2d 124, writ denied, 00-0165 (La.
6/30/00), 765 So.2d 1067. The relevant
question is whether the trial court abused its
broad sentencing discretion, not whether
another sentence might have been more
appropriate. State v. Cook, 95-2784 (La.
5/31/96), 674 So.2d 957, cert. denied, 519
U.S. 1043, 117 S.Ct. 615, 136 L.Ed.2d 539
Further, in reviewing the defendant’s sentences, the appellate
court should consider the nature of the crime, the nature and
background of the offender, and the sentences imposed for similar
crimes. State v. Lisotta, 98-648 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/16/98), 726 So.2d
57 (citing State v. Telsee, 425 So.2d 1251 (La.1983)), writ denied,
99-433 (La.6/25/99), 745 So.2d 1183. In 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, a panel of this court observed that:
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.” State
v. Batiste, 594 So.2d 1 (La.App. 1 Cir.1991).
Additionally, it is within the purview of the trial court to
particularize the sentence because the trial judge 12
“remains in the best position to assess the aggravating
and mitigating circumstances presented by each case.”
State v. Cook, 95-2784 (La. 5/31/96), 674 So.2d 957,
958[, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1043, 117 S.Ct. 615, 136
L.Ed.2d 539 (1996)].
State v. Soileau, 13-770, 13-771, pp. 4-5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/12/14), 153
So.3d 1002, 1005-06 (alteration in the original), writ denied, 14-452
(La. 9/26/14), 149 So.3d 261. Because Defendant failed to file a
motion to reconsider sentence, we will review Defendant’s claim as a
bare excessiveness claim.
We find that the trial court’s imposition of a mid-range six-year sentence is
not excessive in this case. Defendant has had a number of arrests involving crimes
against the person and involving weapons. As noted by the trial court, in Brown,
234 So.3d 978, the defendant was sentenced to five years at hard labor and a
$10,000.00 fine was imposed. We find the facts in this case are similar to Brown
in that Defendant had a gun pointed at the victim within close range of the victim’s
body during a verbal argument. Defendant held a gun up to Ms. Humphrey’s head
and threatened to shoot her and also to shoot the car in which she and Ms. Gentle
were riding. Neither the victim nor Ms. Gentle threatened Defendant in any way,
and he acknowledged no wrongdoing and expressed no remorse for his actions.
Under these circumstances, we find that the six-year sentence is not excessive and
thus, we hereby affirm the trial court’s sentence.
Outcome: For these reasons, we hereby affirm Defendant’s conviction and sentence.
However, we vacate that portion of Defendant’s sentence requiring him to serve
one year in default of payment of the fine.