State v. Scruggs, No. 19-0073

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtARMSTEAD, Justice
Citation836 S.E.2d 466,242 W.Va. 499
Parties STATE of West Virginia, Petitioner v. Daniel Scott SCRUGGS, Respondent
Decision Date21 November 2019
Docket NumberNo. 19-0073

242 W.Va. 499
836 S.E.2d 466

STATE of West Virginia, Petitioner
v.
Daniel Scott SCRUGGS, Respondent

No. 19-0073

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: October 29, 2019
Filed: November 21, 2019


Patrick Morrisey, Esq., Attorney General, Mary Beth Niday, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, Charleston, West Virginia, Counsel for the Petitioner

Gregory V Smith, Esq., Law Office of Gregory V Smith, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Counsel for the Respondent

ARMSTEAD, Justice:

In this case we consider two certified questions regarding West Virginia's kidnapping statute, W. Va. Code § 61-2-14a (2017). After exercising our authority to reformulate the certified questions, and after considering the parties' briefs, relevant portions of the joint appendix record, oral arguments, and the pertinent law, we answer the reformulated certified questions as follows:

1. Whether the trial judge, rather than the jury, is vested with the authority under West Virginia Code § 61-2-14a(b)(3) and (4), to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for
836 S.E.2d 468
parole, for a person convicted of kidnapping? Answer: Yes

2. Whether, in the absence of a constitutional or statutory requirement that special interrogatories be submitted to a jury in a kidnapping case, a trial court exceeds its legitimate authority and abuses its discretion in submitting special interrogatories to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole, for a person convicted of kidnapping? Answer: Yes.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 19, 2018, the Respondent Daniel Scott Scruggs ("Scruggs") was indicted for kidnapping in violation of W. Va. Code § 61-2-14a.1 During a pretrial hearing, the circuit court requested briefing from the parties as to whether the United States Supreme Court's decision in Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013) has impacted the holding of Syllabus point 2 of State v. Haught, 218 W.Va. 462, 624 S.E.2d 899 (2005) so that a jury would now need to make additional determinations when considering a kidnapping charge. Another pretrial hearing was held and the parties discussed whether the judge or the jury should make determinations found in W. Va. Code § 61-2-14a(b)(3) and (4). The parties also discussed the propriety of submission of special interrogatories to the jury in a kidnapping case. The State of West Virginia ("State") argued that the circuit court judge had the authority to decide the issues regarding whether a person is returned without bodily harm and before some concession had been received. The circuit court did not agree with the State's position, and it was decided that Scruggs' trial would be continued so that these issues could be brought before this Court for consideration.

The Court entered its Order Certifying Questions on January 23, 2019. The circuit court proposed two certified questions. The two questions, and the circuit court's answers are as follows:

1. Whether a jury must decide those facts that in all kidnapping cases must result in a lesser (or greater) sentence? Answer: Yes.

2. Whether, in the absence of a constitutional requirement that special interrogatories be submitted to a jury in a kidnapping case, a trial court exceeds its legitimate authority and abuses its discretion in submitting special interrogatories for the jury's determination of whether the victim was returned unharmed, and if so, at what juncture? Answer: No.

The State and Scruggs both agree that the trial judge, not the jury, should determine those facts that are found in W. Va. Code § 61-2-14a(b)(3) and (4). Further, the State and Scruggs also agree that a trial court exceeds its legitimate authority and abuses its discretion if it submits special interrogatories to the jury in a kidnapping case, in the absence of a statutory requirement.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The appellate standard of review of questions of law answered and certified by a circuit court is de novo [,]" Syl. Pt. 1, Gallapoo v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 197 W.Va. 172, 475 S.E.2d 172 (1996), meaning that "we give plenary consideration to the legal issues that must be resolved to answer the question" certified by the circuit court. Michael v. Appalachian Heating, LLC, 226 W.Va. 394, 398, 701 S.E.2d 116, 120 (2010).

III. DISCUSSION

Prior to addressing the issues raised in this proceeding, we exercise our authority to reformulate the questions certified by the circuit court in order to fully address the legal issues presented.

When a certified question is not framed so that this Court is able to fully address the law which is involved in the question, then this Court retains the power to reformulate
836 S.E.2d 469
questions certified to it under both the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act found in W.Va. Code, 51-1A-1, et seq. and W.Va. Code, 58-5-2 [1967], the statute relating to certified questions from a circuit court of this State to this Court.

Syl. Pt. 3, Kincaid v. Mangum, 189 W.Va. 404, 432 S.E.2d 74 (1993).

Consistent with our authority to do so, we reformulate the questions certified as follows:

1. Whether the trial judge, rather than the jury, is vested with the authority under West Virginia Code § 61-2-14a(b)(3) and (4), to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole, for a person convicted of kidnapping?

2. Whether, in the absence of a constitutional or statutory requirement that special interrogatories be submitted to a jury in a kidnapping case, a trial court exceeds its legitimate authority and abuses its discretion in submitting special interrogatories to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole, for a person convicted of kidnapping?

We will address each of these questions in turn.

A. "Judge or Jury"

In the first certified question, we are asked to determine whether the trial judge or the jury should determine the facts that will reduce a criminal defendant's sentence from life to a term of years. Answering this question requires us to examine our kidnapping statute. Therefore, we begin our analysis with a review of our rules of statutory interpretation. This Court has held that in deciding the meaning of a statutory provision, "[w]e look first to the statute's language. If the text, given its plain meaning, answers the interpretive question, the language must prevail and further inquiry is foreclosed." Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dep't of W. Va ., 195 W.Va. 573, 587, 466 S.E.2d 424, 438 (1995). See also Syl. Pt. 2, Crockett v. Andrews , 153 W.Va. 714, 172 S.E.2d 384 (1970) ("Where the language of a statute is free from ambiguity, its plain meaning is to be accepted and applied without resort to interpretation."); and Syl. Pt. 2, State v. Epperly , 135 W.Va. 877, 65 S.E.2d 488 (1951) ("A statutory provision which is clear and unambiguous and plainly expresses the legislative intent will not be interpreted by the courts but will be given full force and effect."). Additionally, this Court has held that "[a] statute is open to construction only where the language used requires interpretation because of ambiguity which renders it susceptible of two or more constructions or of such doubtful or obscure meaning that reasonable minds might be uncertain or disagree as to its meaning." Sizemore v. State Farm Gen. Ins. Co., 202 W.Va. 591, 596, 505 S.E.2d 654, 659 (1998) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

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4 practice notes
  • State v. McClain, 21-0873
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 17, 2022
    ...resorting to the rules of interpretation." Syl. pt. 2, State v. Elder, 152 W.Va. 571, 165 S.E.2d 108 (1968). See also State v. Scruggs, 242 W.Va. 499, 502, 836 S.E.2d 466, 469 (2019) ("'[W]e look first to the statute's language. If the text, given its plain meaning, answers the interpretive......
  • State v. Smith, No. 19-0143
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 16, 2020
    ...that the circuit court erred by assigning the determination of whether there were mitigating factors to the jury. See State v. Scruggs , 242 W. Va. 499, 836 S.E.2d 466 (2019).2 The Woodrum case examined the 2014 version of our kidnapping statute. Our kidnapping statute was amended in 2017, ......
  • Div. of Justice & Cmty. Servs. v. Fairmont State Univ., No. 18-0429
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 21, 2019
    ...Code § 30-29-3(a) (2015).IV. ConclusionLEPS’s decision to deny Fairmont State’s application to establish and operate an entry-level 836 S.E.2d 466 law-enforcement-training academy was arbitrary, capricious, and not supported by any statutory authority. We therefore affirm the circuit court’......
  • Blickenstaff v. Ames, 20-0176
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • January 12, 2022
    ...Stoner, 799 F.2d 1253, 1255 (9th Cir. 1986). West Virginia is a member of the IAD. See W.Va. Code §§ 62-14-1 to -7. [4] State v. Scruggs, 242 W.Va. 499, 836 S.E.2d 466 (2019), was filed on November 21, 2019. [5] In December of 2018, petitioner, acting without the assistance of his appointed......
4 cases
  • State v. McClain, 21-0873
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 17, 2022
    ...resorting to the rules of interpretation." Syl. pt. 2, State v. Elder, 152 W.Va. 571, 165 S.E.2d 108 (1968). See also State v. Scruggs, 242 W.Va. 499, 502, 836 S.E.2d 466, 469 (2019) ("'[W]e look first to the statute's language. If the text, given its plain meaning, answers the interpretive......
  • State v. Smith, No. 19-0143
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 16, 2020
    ...that the circuit court erred by assigning the determination of whether there were mitigating factors to the jury. See State v. Scruggs , 242 W. Va. 499, 836 S.E.2d 466 (2019).2 The Woodrum case examined the 2014 version of our kidnapping statute. Our kidnapping statute was amended in 2017, ......
  • Div. of Justice & Cmty. Servs. v. Fairmont State Univ., No. 18-0429
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 21, 2019
    ...Code § 30-29-3(a) (2015).IV. ConclusionLEPS’s decision to deny Fairmont State’s application to establish and operate an entry-level 836 S.E.2d 466 law-enforcement-training academy was arbitrary, capricious, and not supported by any statutory authority. We therefore affirm the circuit court’......
  • Blickenstaff v. Ames, 20-0176
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • January 12, 2022
    ...Stoner, 799 F.2d 1253, 1255 (9th Cir. 1986). West Virginia is a member of the IAD. See W.Va. Code §§ 62-14-1 to -7. [4] State v. Scruggs, 242 W.Va. 499, 836 S.E.2d 466 (2019), was filed on November 21, 2019. [5] In December of 2018, petitioner, acting without the assistance of his appointed......

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