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State v. Scruggs

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

November 21, 2019

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA, Petitioner
v.
DANIEL SCOTT SCRUGGS, Respondent

          Submitted: October 29, 2019

          Certified Questions from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County The Honorable David Hammer, Judge Criminal Action No. CC-19-2018-F-143

          Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney General 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

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "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 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).

         2. "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).

         3. "Our kidnapping statute, W.Va. Code § 61-2-14a (1999), does not provide for the enhancement of a defendant's sentence beyond the statutory maximum based on additional facts found by the trial judge in violation of the constitutional right to a trial by jury as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403 (2004)." Syl. Pt. 2, State v. Haught, 218 W.Va. 462, 624 S.E.2d 899 (2005).

         4. Our kidnapping statute, W.Va. Code § 61-2-14a (2017), does not provide for the enhancement of a defendant's sentence beyond the statutory minimum or maximum based on additional facts found by the trial judge and does not implicate the prohibition announced in Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013).

         5. "The submission of special interrogatories to a jury in a criminal case when not authorized by statute constitutes reversible error." Syl. Pt. 2, State v. Dilliner, 212 W.Va. 135, 569 S.Ed.2D 211 (2002)

          OPINION

          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 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 (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 ...

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