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STATE of Louisiana v. Dartanya SPOTTSVILLE a/k/a Lo
Defendant, Dartanya O. Spottsville, appeals his convictions and sentences for second degree murder, attempted second degree murder, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. For the following reasons, defendant's convictions and sentences are vacated, and the matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
Defendant, a.k.a. “Lo,” was indicted by a Jefferson Parish Grand jury on September 24, 2015, with the second degree murder of Johnell Ovide, a.k.a. “Ruga,” in violation of La. R.S. 14.30.1 (count one), the second degree murder of Trammel Marshall in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1 (count two), the attempted second degree murder of Blake Lamb in violation of La. R.S. 14:27 and La. R.S. 14:30.1 (count three),1 and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of La. R.S. 14:95.1 (count four).2 Defendant was arraigned on September 30, 2015, and entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. On October 8, 2015, a superseding indictment charging defendant with the same offenses with which he was charged in the original indictment was filed.3 Defendant was re-arraigned on the superseding indictment on November 3, 2015, and pled not guilty. Following the disposition of pre-trial motions, including defendant's motion to suppress identification, statement, evidence, and to quash,4 the matter proceeded to a trial by jury commencing on September 16, 2019, and concluding on September 20, 2019. At the conclusion of trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged on all counts. The verdict was ten to two on count one, and eleven to one on counts two, three, and four.
On November 18, 2019, defendant filed a motion for new trial and motion for appeal.5 The trial court denied his motion for new trial on November 20, 2019. After a waiver of delays, the trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on counts one and two; imprisonment at hard labor for fifty years on count three; and imprisonment at hard labor for ten years without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on count four. The trial court ordered that counts one, two, and three be served consecutively and that count four run concurrently with counts one, two, and three. Additionally, counts one, two, and three were designated as crimes of violence. Following sentencing, the trial court granted defendant's motion for appeal. Defendant now appeals challenging the constitutionality of the non-unanimous jury verdicts.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
On appeal, the sole issue presented for this Court's review is whether defendant's convictions and sentences resulting from non-unanimous jury verdicts should be vacated on direct appeal and the case remanded to the trial court for further proceedings based upon the United States Supreme Court decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S.Ct. 1390, 206 L.Ed.2d 583 (2020).6
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Defendant alleges that the jury verdicts in his convictions are invalid because they were rendered by a non-unanimous jury. Defendant argues that the non-unanimous verdicts are contrary to his rights to due process and equal protection, and violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. He states that, at the time the offenses were committed, the non-unanimous jury provisions in La. C.Cr.P. art. 782(A) and art. I, § 17(A) of the Louisiana Constitution were inconsistent with the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. We find merit to defendant's assignment of error.
Previously under Louisiana law, for an offense committed prior to January 1, 2019, in which the punishment was necessarily confinement at hard labor, ten of twelve jurors were required to concur to render a verdict. See La. Const. art. I, § 17; La. C.Cr.P. art. 782. In Ramos, supra, the United States Supreme Court found that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial—as incorporated against the state by the Fourteenth Amendment—requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense.7 The Court concluded, “[t]here can be no question either that the Sixth Amendment's unanimity requirement applies to state and federal trials equally ․ So if the Sixth Amendment's right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to support a conviction in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” Ramos, 140 S.Ct. at 1397.
According to Ramos, Louisiana will have to retry defendants who were convicted of serious offenses by non-unanimous juries and whose cases are still pending on direct appeal. Since the United States Supreme Court's holding in Ramos, this Court has vacated convictions and sentences and remanded cases for further proceedings where defendants were found guilty of serious offenses by non-unanimous jury verdicts, and their cases were still on direct review. See Harrell, supra. See also State v. Kelly, 19-425 (La. App. 5 Cir. 7/31/20), 299 So.3d 1284; State v. Acevedo, 18-683 (La. App. 5 Cir. 6/30/20), 296 So.3d 828; State v. Rivas, 19-378 (La. App. 5 Cir. 5/21/20), 296 So.3d 1198. Consequently, applying Ramos to the facts of the instant case, which is on direct appeal, we find that because the verdicts resulting from defendant's jury trial were not unanimous for these “serious offenses,” in compliance with the United States Supreme Court's directive in Ramos, defendant's convictions and sentences must be vacated. Defendant is entitled to a new trial.
For the foregoing reasons, we find that defendant is entitled to new trial. Accordingly, defendant's convictions and sentences are vacated and the matter is remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
CONVICTIONS AND SENTENCES VACATED; REMANDED
1. Jacobie A. Green, a.k.a. “Cobie,” and Johnell Walker, a.k.a. “Shadow,” were also charged in the first three counts of the bill of indictment.
2. Defendant was previously convicted of possession of heroin in violation of La. R.S. 40:966(C) in case number 13-5611 in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court.
3. The only difference between the original and superseding indictments was that Archie Hubert, III, was charged in count five in the superseding indictment with perjury in violation of La. R.S. 14:123.
4. In his motion to quash filed on August 30, 2019 and denied on September 11, 2019, defendant sought to declare Article 782(A) of the Louisiana Constitution unconstitutional on the basis that it allowed for a non-unanimous verdict.
5. Although defendant's motion for appeal was filed prematurely prior to his November 20, 2019 sentencing, a premature appeal need not be dismissed when a sentence is imposed after the motion for appeal is filed. See State v. Brown, 16-301 (La. App. 5 Cir. 12/7/16), 205 So.3d 1032, 1040-41, writ denied, 17-163 (La. 9/29/17), 227 So.3d 283. Here, defendant's sentence was imposed after he filed his motion for appeal, and the trial judge did not grant the appeal until after defendant was sentenced.
6. As a matter of course, this Court reviewed the matter for sufficiency of the evidence as required by State v. Raymo, 419 So.2d 858 (La. 1982), and State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731 (La. 1992). We find that the State offered evidence at trial that a jury could find sufficient to establish all of the elements of the crimes for which defendant was accused. Therefore, defendant is not entitled to an acquittal under Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 101 S.Ct. 970, 67 L.Ed.2d 30 (1981).
7. For purposes of the Sixth Amendment, federal law defines serious offenses as offenses subject to imprisonment over six months. State v. Harrell, 19-371 (La. App. 5 Cir. 7/8/20), 299 So.3d 1274, 1283. The Sixth Amendment's right to a jury trial only attaches to serious offenses. Id.; see generally Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322, 327-28, 116 S.Ct. 2163, 135 L.Ed.2d 590 (1996); Hill v. Louisiana, 2013 WL 486691 (E.D. La. 2013).
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Docket No: NO. 20-KA-99
Decided: December 23, 2020
Court: Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit.
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