State v. Hall

Docket Number21-0904
Decision Date30 October 2023
PartiesSTATE OF WEST VIRGINIA, Plaintiff Below, Respondent, v. DAVID EUGENE HALL, Defendant Below, Petitioner.
CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia

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STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA, Plaintiff Below, Respondent,
v.

DAVID EUGENE HALL, Defendant Below, Petitioner.

No. 21-0904

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

October 30, 2023


Submitted: September 12, 2023

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Mercer County The Honorable William J. Sadler, Judge Criminal Action No. 20-F-157

Colin M Cline, Esq. Colin M. Cline, Attorney at Law Princeton, West Virginia Attorney for the Petitioner

Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney General William E. Longwell, Esq. Assistant Attorney General Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Respondent

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SYLLABUS

1. "The Supreme Court of Appeals reviews sentencing orders . . . under a deferential abuse of discretion standard, unless the order violates statutory or constitutional commands." Syllabus point 1, in part, State v. Lucas, 201 W.Va. 271, 496 S.E.2d 221 (1997).

2. "The word 'shall' in the absence of language in the statute showing a contrary intent on the part of the legislature, should be afforded a mandatory connotation." Syllabus point 2, Terry v. Sencindiver, 153 W.Va. 651, 171 S.E.2d 480 (1969).

3. "To trigger application of the 'plain error' doctrine, there must be (1) an error; (2) that is plain; (3) that affects substantial rights; and (4) seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings." Syllabus point 7, State v. Miller, 194 W.Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995).

4. "To affect substantial rights means the error was prejudicial. It must have affected the outcome of the proceedings in the circuit court, and the defendant rather than the prosecutor bears the burden of persuasion with respect to prejudice." Syllabus point 9, in part, State v. Miller, 194 W.Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995).

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OPINION

BUNN, JUSTICE

Petitioner David Eugene Hall appeals the Circuit Court of Mercer County's August 9, 2021 order sentencing him to ten to twenty-five years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault, in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-8B-4.[1] Mr. Hall raises two issues on appeal relating to his sentencing. He chiefly complains that the circuit court failed to consider the mandatory "mitigating circumstances" listed in West Virginia Code § 61-11-23(c). He also argues that his sentence is constitutionally disproportionate.

Before Mr. Hall received the appealed sentence, the circuit court's first disposition required that he complete the sex offender program at Sam Purdue Juvenile Center ("Sam Purdue"). After Sam Purdue discharged him due to his behavior, the court sentenced Mr. Hall to ten to twenty-five years imprisonment, suspended his sentence, then assigned him to the Anthony Correctional Center ("Anthony Center") for young adult offenders for at least six months but not more than two years. Mr. Hall was discharged from the Anthony Center due to his misconduct a few months later. After that discharge, the circuit court ordered that he complete the sentence he now appeals. We affirm the circuit court because, as explained below, while the court did not explicitly discuss the mitigating circumstances listed in West Virginia Code § 61-11-23(c) before ordering the

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final sentence, this error was not prejudicial to Mr. Hall. Furthermore, his sentence was not unconstitutionally disproportionate.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In late 2019, seventeen-year-old Mr. Hall sexually assaulted his eleven-year-old half-sister, and she became pregnant. In early February 2020, during an investigation by the West Virginia State Police, the State sought his emergency detention as a juvenile. After a hearing, the Mercer County Circuit Court found that probable cause existed to find that Mr. Hall committed first-degree sexual assault, a violation of West Virginia Code § 61-8B-3, and detained him pursuant to the West Virginia Rules of Juvenile Procedure. Eleven days later, the court held a preliminary hearing on a delinquency petition that alleged Mr. Hall committed sexual assault and incest. The court found that probable cause existed to believe that Mr. Hall was a juvenile delinquent.

On July 2, 2020, the circuit court held a hearing on the State's motion to transfer the case to the adult criminal jurisdiction of the circuit court, pursuant to West Virginia Code § 49-4-710(d).[2] During the hearing, the court noted that Mr. Hall underwent

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a competency evaluation, and he was competent. The court found (1) that Mr. Hall was at least fourteen years old; and (2) probable cause to believe that he committed first-degree sexual assault and incest. Recognizing that the transfer was nondiscretionary pursuant to West Virginia Code § 49-4-710(d)(1), the court transferred the case to its criminal jurisdiction. Still, during the hearing, the court acknowledged, and the State agreed, that the sentencing options in a transferred case included a juvenile disposition.[3] At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ordered that Mr. Hall remain at Sam Purdue, the juvenile facility where he was receiving counseling and therapy.

In August 2020, Mr. Hall waived indictment by a grand jury and entered a guilty plea to an information charging him with second-degree sexual assault, a violation of West Virginia Code § 61-8B-4 that carries a statutory penalty of ten to twenty-five years imprisonment. The plea agreement between the State and Mr. Hall contained a provision where the parties recommended that his sentence be ten to twenty-five years imprisonment, suspended, and that the court sentence him to Sam Purdue for full completion of the sex offender program.[4] The parties also recommended that, after his successful completion of

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the program, the court give Mr. Hall probation and that Mr. Hall comply with sex offender registration requirements. The parties agreed that the court could determine whether to require extended supervision. At the hearing, the circuit court ensured Mr. Hall understood that, while the State made recommendations, the plea agreement did not bind the court and that Mr. Hall could receive a sentence of ten to twenty-five years imprisonment.

During the plea hearing, the court inquired whether Mr. Hall understood his rights and the consequences of his plea. Mr. Hall agreed that he did, and his counsel explained that Mr. Hall's IQ was 65, but that he was competent and "not on any drugs."[5]Defense counsel also requested a presentence investigation. The court accepted the guilty plea, recognizing that Mr. Hall committed the offense while a juvenile. The court directed that, before sentencing, Mr. Hall begin the sex offender treatment program at Sam Purdue. After ordering a sex offender evaluation, the court contemplated that Mr. Hall would be at Sam Purdue for a couple of months, then the court would "formally put him on probation with the condition he completes the program there," and, in the meantime, the probation office would complete the presentence investigation.

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The completed presentence investigation report included information that Mr. Hall's mother, who was also the victim's mother, "continued to fully support the position of her son as opposed to her much younger daughter ...." It also noted that the sexual offender evaluation concluded that Mr. Hall "consistently denied the offense conduct throughout the entire process until it was clear that DNA evidence indicated otherwise."

In late October 2020, the court held a hearing where the State explained that the parties agreed to the disposition that Mr. Hall complete the program at Sam Purdue, then receive probation and a period of extended supervised release at the court's discretion. The court noted that it reviewed the presentence investigation report. Mr. Hall's attorneys explained that they reviewed the presentence investigation report and the sex offender evaluation with Mr. Hall and that he understood and was ready to proceed. Counsel also remarked that because of issues with his family background, Mr. Hall took time to understand the severity of what he had done, but "he's now on his way to understanding." Following the parties' recommendation, the court ordered Mr. Hall to complete the program at Sam Purdue but explained that Mr. Hall would return to court later to discuss his sex offender registration and extended supervision requirements. The court acknowledged that because Mr. Hall was a juvenile when he committed the offense, the court could proceed with that juvenile disposition and scheduled a hearing for a progress report in late January 2021. The court then entered an order on November 19, 2020,

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requiring Mr. Hall to complete the sex offender program at Sam Purdue and deferring his disposition pending the completion of that program.

However, Mr. Hall was unable to complete the program at Sam Perdue. During the previously scheduled January 2021 hearing, the court noted that Sam Purdue was seeking Mr. Hall's discharge from the program because he was non-compliant with treatment. Because of this non-compliance, Mr. Hall was ultimately discharged from the juvenile facility.

On March 1, 2021, the court held another hearing in light of the discharge. The State requested that Mr. Hall receive the maximum sentence for the crime of second-degree sexual assault, ten to twenty-five years imprisonment, because he failed to complete the Sam Purdue program, which was his chance to address his behavior, and the "egregious underlying circumstances of this case." Mr. Hall's counsel instead requested placement at the Anthony Center, a young adult offender center.[6] Bringing the court's attention to the sexual offender evaluation, Mr. Hall's counsel argued that Mr. Hall's psychological age

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was younger than his actual age and that his mother "brainwash[ed]" him. Counsel further urged the court to send him to the Anthony Center for more rehabilitative measures. Mr. Hall also requested placement at the Anthony Center when he...

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