Appeals court to hear 1994 negligent homicide case

An appeals court is poised to decide whether a Donaldsonville man should be placed on probation or ordered to serve the two-year prison term he received 18 years ago but never served in the negligent homicide death of a St. Amant infant.

A three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge will hear arguments Jan. 7 in the emotionally charged Stanley White case.

Circuit Judges James Kuhn, Toni Higginbotham and Mitch Theriot originally were set to decide the case solely on the written arguments filed in August by attorneys for the state and White, but the panel has since — at the urging of the Attorney General’s Office — decided to entertain oral arguments.

“For us to be able to lay out all the facts, we think it would be helpful to the court,” Assistant Attorney General Kurt Wall, who heads up the office’s Criminal Division, said in a recent interview.

Steven Moore, one of White’s attorneys, said he doesn’t have a problem with the panel taking oral arguments.

“That’s fine with us,” Moore said. “The facts are what they are.”

White was traveling at a speed estimated at 75 mph on Airline Highway in Ascension Parish on July 31, 1994, when he ran into the back of a car carrying 10-week-old Brittney Deville and several others, Wall and fellow Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher state in documents filed at the 1st Circuit.

Brittney, who was unrestrained, was thrown from the vehicle. She died a day later from her injuries.

White, who was 19 at the time, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.09 percent, which at the time was lower than the state’s threshold for presumptive drunken driving.

In 1994, a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent was presumptive evidence of drunken driving. Today, a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent is presumptive evidence of drunken driving.

For those younger than 21, a reading of 0.02 percent is presumptive evidence of drunken driving.

White was sentenced to two years in prison in December 1995 following his guilty plea to negligent homicide in July of that year.

He was allowed to remain free on bond while he appealed his sentence.

After the 1st Circuit upheld White’s sentence in early 1997, he never was taken into custody and did not serve his sentence.

The 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office turned the case over to the Attorney General’s Office in March, and on May 3, 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Jessie LeBlanc suspended White’s two-year prison term and placed him on probation for the same amount of time.

LeBlanc said in her ruling that enforcing the sentence now would amount to an inordinate delay that would violate the fundamental principles of liberty and justice.

White’s attorneys, Moore and Mark Plaisance, have pointed out to the 1st Circuit that White later earned a college degree and was continually employed, including a stint as a state employee with the Louisiana Workforce Commission. He also had no further arrests, they say.

Moore and Plaisance are asking the appeals court to affirm LeBlanc’s decision. Wall and Weilbaecher want her ruling reversed and White ordered to serve his prison term.

“White has been in jail in connection with this case for 10 days. Brittney Deville lived for 73 days,” Weilbaecher and Wall state in their written arguments. “Mr. White has not served sufficient time to satisfy ‘fundamental fairness’ when Brittney’s life span is taken into consideration.”

Moore and Plaisance counter that fundamental principles of liberty and justice dictate White not lose his freedom after all these years as a law-abiding and productive citizen. They also stress that the execution of White’s sentence was solely within the state’s control for 16 years after the 1st Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence, but the state dropped the ball.

“This is not a ‘victim case.’ Nor is this case one where the trial judge has become a ‘one-man pardon board.’ The state’s argument merely seeks to divert this court from applying fundamental justice and liberty ... in order to correct its more than 16-year failure to act,” Moore and Plaisance argue.

Wall and Weilbaecher contend the two-year prison sentence imposed by then-Judge John Peytavin was neither illegal nor excessive.