State v. Eakle

Docket Number22-0287
Decision Date15 September 2023
PartiesState of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent v. David Eugene Eakle, Defendant Below, Petitioner
CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia

Doddridge County CC-09-2021-F-21


Petitioner David Eugene Eakle appeals the order of the Circuit Court of Doddridge County, entered on April 5, 2022, sentencing him to an effective term of 65 to 245 years of confinement in the state penitentiary.[1] Mr. Eakle asserts three assignments of error on appeal. He argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in declining to impose an alternative sentence that the sentence is "disproportionate," and that he did not have effective assistance of counsel. Upon our review, we determine that oral argument is unnecessary and that a memorandum decision is appropriate. See W.Va R. App. P. 21.

In November 2021, Mr. Eakle entered an Alford/Kennedy plea of guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual assault in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-8B-3(a)(2); one count of first-degree sexual abuse in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-8B-7; and one count of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-8D-5(a), all based on charges of sexual misconduct involving his three-year-old and four-year-old family members.[2] Pursuant to his plea agreement, the State dismissed two additional counts of first-degree sexual assault and one additional count of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust. Mr. Eakle affirmed at the plea hearing that he was aware of his exposure to the sentences set forth in statute. The State stood silent as to Mr. Eakle's sentence. Nevertheless, when Mr. Eakle requested alternative sentencing, the circuit court denied the request and imposed the statutory ranges prescribed for each of the crimes to which Mr. Eakle pled guilty.

We consider Mr. Eakle's first two assignments of error, both addressing the imposition of his penitentiary sentence, in tandem. Mr. Eakle argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying his request for alternative sentencing, and that the sentence the circuit court ultimately imposed was constitutionally disproportionate. Unless a sentence "violates statutory or constitutional commands," we review a court's imposition of a sentence for an abuse of discretion. Syl. Pt. 1, State v. Lucas, 201 W.Va 271, 496 S.E.2d 221 (1997). Still, "[s]entences imposed by the trial court, if within statutory limits and if not based on some unpermissible factor, are not subject to appellate review." Syl. Pt. 4, State v. Goodnight, 169 W.Va. 366, 287 S.E.2d 504 (1982). That guideline is tempered, however, by the Eighth Amendment's "'proportionality principle: "Penalties shall be proportioned to the character and degree of the offence."' Syllabus point 8, State v. Vance, 164 W.Va. 216, 262 S.E.2d 423 (1980)." Syl. Pt. 4, in part, State v. Booth, 224 W.Va. 307, 685 S.E.2d 701 (2009). We apply two tests to evaluate the proportionality of a sentence. "The first is subjective and asks whether the sentence for the particular crime shocks the conscience of the court and society. If a sentence is so offensive that it cannot pass a societal and judicial sense of justice, the inquiry need not proceed further." State v. Cooper, 172 W.Va. 266, 272, 304 S.E.2d 851, 857 (1983). The second is an objective inquiry, requiring us to give consideration "to the nature of the offense, the legislative purpose behind the punishment, a comparison of the punishment with what would be inflicted in other jurisdictions, and a comparison with other offenses within the same jurisdiction." Id. (quoting Syl. Pt. 5, Wanstreet v. Bordenkircher, 166 W.Va. 523, 276 S.E.2d 205 (1981)).

Mr. Eakle argues that the circuit court in part based his sentence on his failure to take responsibility or express remorse for his conduct, and that this basis is punitive in light of his decision to enter his plea pursuant to Alford/Kennedy. Mr. Eakle offers no authority to support his argument. We, however, have addressed this issue. It is undisputed that "this Court has identified remorse or the lack thereof as a factor to be taken into account by a trial judge when sentencing a defendant." State v. Jones, 216 W.Va. 666, 669, 610 S.E.2d 1, 4 (2004). With this principle in mind, we have explained that "nothing in Kennedy precludes a court from considering at sentencing whether a defendant has accepted responsibility for his crimes." State v. Arbough, No. 15-0685, 2016 WL 4611188, at *2 (W.Va. Sept. 6, 2016) (memorandum decision) (quoting State v. Keith R., No. 13-0768, 2014 WL 1686932, at *2 (W.Va. Apr. 28, 2014)(memorandum decision)). There is no basis to find that the circuit court abused its discretion by considering Mr. Eakle's failure to accept responsibility. Furthermore, in light of the extreme youth of the victims, we find that Mr. Eakle's sentence does not shock the conscience, and he has failed to demonstrate that it is objectively unreasonable.

In his third assignment of error, Mr. Eakle argues that he was ill advised by counsel during plea negotiations and he therefore, received...

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