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Louisiana Supreme Court Reverses Sentence for Escape, but Sentence Affirmed on Remand

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed an appellate court that found excessive a sentence which was twice as long as the original sentence imposed prior to a successful appeal, but remanded the case for consideration of whether the second sentence violated due process for being vindictive.

Winn Correctional Center prisoner Courtney Savoy was convicted of simple escape in January 2007, in connection with an incident in which he and another prisoner, Jacob Shaw, had been transported to a hospital in a van and Shaw tried to run away. Shaw claimed that he and Savoy had planned to escape together, but Savoy backed out at the last minute and "fed [him] to the wolves."

At sentencing, the trial court considered Savoy's 13 prior felony convictions and an aggravating factor that he "had (in the court's opinion), lied in his testimony at trial in which he denied any complicity in the escape." The court then sentenced him to the maximum term of five years' imprisonment at hard labor to be served consecutive to his existing sentence.

Following an appeal to the Third Circuit, Savoy's conviction and sentence were reversed on grounds that the trial court had improperly precluded the defense from impeaching state witnesses with their prior inconsistent statements. See: State v. Savoy, 11 So.3d 1184 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 2009).

On remand, the state filed an amended bill of information charging Savoy with the more serious offense of aggravated escape; however, after Savoy filed a pro se motion alleging the amendment was vindictive, the state recharged him with simple escape. A jury reconvicted Savoy and the court resentenced him to five years in 2010. The state then filed a habitual offender bill charging Savoy as a third-time offender; the trial court denied his motion to quash, found him to be a third-time offender and imposed an enhanced 10-year sentence to be served consecutive to his current sentence.

The Third Circuit affirmed the conviction but found the sentence to be excessive, especially compared to the two-year sentence that Shaw had received in connection with the escape. The appellate court concluded that Savoy "was 'not a "worst offender" on whom a maximum sentence should be imposed,' that 'the maximum sentence is, indeed, reserved for more egregious offenders,' and that [Savoy's] offense 'warrant[ed] a shorter sentence.'" See: State v. Savoy, 64 So.3d 457 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2011).

The state appealed and the Supreme Court held 1) that Savoy's sentence did not implicate La. Const. art. I § 20's prohibition against excessive sentences, 2) that Savoy fit the criteria for a "worst offender" and 3) that the trial court could consider his trial testimony as an aggravating factor.

While the Supreme Court held the Third Circuit had erred in finding Savoy's 10-year sentence to be excessive, it remanded the case to the appellate court to consider whether that sentence violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which "requires that vindictiveness against a defendant for having successfully attacked his first conviction must play no part in the sentence he receives at a new trial." See: Louisiana v. Savoy, 93 So.3d 1279 (La. 2012).

Following remand, on October 3, 2012 the Third Circuit found that Savoy, who was acting pro se, had "the burden of proving prosecutorial vindictiveness" but had cited "nothing from the record to suggest prosecutorial vindictiveness or selectivity or establish the State's disingenuous motivation" for charging him as a third-time offender. Rather, Savoy had only argued that Shaw had not been similarly charged.

Citing Savoy's extensive criminal history and noting that a prosecutor "has the discretionary power to charge a defendant under the habitual offender law just as he has the initial unlimited power to prosecute 'whom, when, and how' he chooses," the appellate court affirmed Savoy's 10-year sentence for simple escape as a third-time offender. See: State v. Savoy, 103 So.3d 564 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2012).

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Related legal case

State v. Savoy