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State v. Landis

Supreme Court of West Virginia

September 1, 2017

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
v.
Ronnie Junior Landis, Defendant Below, Petitioner

         Upshur County 14-F-92

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Ronnie Junior Landis, by counsel James E. Hawkins, Jr. and Thomas J. Prall, appeals the Circuit Court of Upshur County's Amended Sentencing Order entered on November 29, 2015. Respondent State of West Virginia, by counsel Shannon Frederick Kiser, filed a response.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Following a jury trial in February of 2015, petitioner was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI") causing death, a misdemeanor; negligent homicide, a misdemeanor; leaving the scene of an accident involving death or personal injury, a felony; and third offense driving while license revoked for DUI, a felony. By an amended sentencing order entered on November 29, 2015, the circuit court sentenced petitioner to serve an aggregate term of 2 to 8 years of incarceration, after being credited for time served; to pay a fine in the amount of $3, 500; and to pay costs in the amount of $500.

         The evidence at trial revealed that on October 5, 2013, petitioner was driving his truck on State Route 151 in Upshur County, West Virginia, with Nicole Currence[1] in the passenger seat. Petitioner came upon a sharp turn, over-corrected his truck, skidded up an embankment, and slammed into a tree. The accident caused extensive damage to the top and passenger side of the cab of the truck. Ms. Currence died as a result of the accident.

         A witness came upon the accident and called 911. This witness observed that petitioner was standing by the driver's side door of the truck and was staggering from side to side. This witness also testified that petitioner gave her his name while she was calling 911, but that he left the scene on foot before authorities arrived.

         West Virginia State Police Trooper Devin James Lowry testified that he arrived at the crash scene at approximately 8:15 p.m., and allowed an emergency medical services crew to attend to Ms. Currence while he looked for petitioner. Trooper Lowry located petitioner walking down the road, away from the scene. Petitioner became combative and attempted to walk away when Trooper Lowry asked him questions about the accident. According to Trooper Lowry, petitioner acted erratically, smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot and glassy eyes, and had a wobbly gait. Because of petitioner's combative behavior, Trooper Lowry did not administer field sobriety tests at the scene.

         Petitioner gave a statement to Trooper Lowry and claimed that Ms. Currence was driving the truck at the time of the accident. However, Trooper Lowry testified that Ms. Currence was not positioned in the truck to where she could have been driving; her legs were on the passenger side and the passenger side door and roof was completely smashed in and unable to be opened. According to Trooper Lowry, petitioner admitted that he had been drinking all day. Trooper Lowry also observed that petitioner was wearing a home confinement anklet.[2]

         Upshur County Deputy Sheriff Jason Queen also reported to the crash scene. His description of the scene and petitioner's condition was consistent with the testimony of Trooper Lowry. Deputy Queen testified that petitioner smelled of alcohol, was unsteady, and slurred his speech. Additionally, the circuit court admitted photographs of the scene taken by Deputy Queen that showed Ms. Currence's lower body positioned in the passenger side of the vehicle. Another State's witness, licensed paramedic and county medical examiner Keith Queen, testified that Ms. Currence could not have been in the driver's seat at the time of the accident and then moved to the passenger seat given the amount of damage done to the passenger side of the vehicle. Mr. Queen testified that the collapse of the truck's roof likely pinned Ms. Currence in place in the passenger seat.

         After the close of the State's evidence, petitioner moved for judgment of acquittal on the basis that the State failed to show that petitioner was driving at the time of the accident; that the State failed to show that petitioner refused to give information or render aid; and that prosecution for both DUI causing death and negligent homicide violated the prohibition against double jeopardy. The circuit court denied petitioner's motion. Petitioner did not testify or call any witnesses in his defense. Following the parties' closing arguments and instructions from the circuit court, the jury found petitioner guilty of the above-mentioned charges.

         The circuit court sentenced petitioner to one year of incarceration for DUI causing death (Count 1);[3] one year of incarceration for negligent homicide (Count 3); one to five years of incarceration for leaving the scene of the accident (Count 4); and one to three years of incarceration for driving while revoked for DUI (Count 5).[4] The circuit court ordered that the one-year sentences for Counts 1 and 3 be served concurrently; that the sentences for Counts 4 and 5 be served consecutively; and that the sentences for Counts 4 and 5 be served consecutively to the concurrent sentences for Counts 1 and 3. Following the denial of petitioner's motion for reduction of sentence, the circuit court resentenced petitioner by order entered on November 29, 2015. This appeal followed.

         Discussion

         On appeal, petitioner raises the following six assignments of error: (1) the convictions and sentences for DUI causing death and negligent homicide violate principles of double jeopardy; (2) the sentence imposed by the circuit court is excessive under the circumstances of the case; (3) the circuit court erred by not properly giving the petitioner credit for time served or good time on his sentence; (4) there was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction because the State failed to prove the cause of death of the victim; (5) the circuit court erred when it denied petitioner a separate trial on the charge of driving on a revoked license; and (6) the circuit court made several errors at trial, the cumulative effect of which denied the petitioner a fair trial.

         With respect to our standard of review for petitioner's arguments, this Court has held as follows:

In reviewing challenges to findings and rulings made by a circuit court, we apply a two-pronged deferential standard of review. We review the rulings of the circuit court concerning a new trial and its conclusion as to the existence of reversible error under an abuse of discretion standard, and we review the circuit court's underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law are subject to a de novo review.

Syl. Pt. 3, State v. Vance, 207 W.Va. 640, 535 S.E.2d 484 (2000). With this standard in mind, we now turn to petitioner's assignments of error.

         Petitioner's first argument is that his convictions for DUI causing death and negligent homicide violate double jeopardy principles. We review petitioner's claim de novo. See Syl. Pt. 1, State v. Sears,196 W.Va. 71, 468 S.E.2d 324 (1996). Petitioner argues that the two offenses are substantially identical in that they both require a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Petitioner further argues that this case involves one act of driving and one death; however, he was punished twice. Finally, petitioner adds that his ...


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