1st Circuit to decide whether sentence should be imposed 18 years late

State prosecutors claim fundamental fairness demands that Stanley White now serve the two-year prison term he received nearly 18 years ago in the negligent homicide death of a St. Amant infant.

But attorneys for the Donaldsonville man counter that fundamental principles of liberty and justice dictate he not lose his freedom after all these years as a law-abiding and productive citizen. Instead, White should be placed on probation, his attorneys claim.

Those opposing and compelling arguments are now in the hands of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.

White’s attorneys filed documents Friday asking the appellate court to affirm 23rd Judicial District Court Judge Jessie LeBlanc’s May 3 decision to suspend White’s two-year prison sentence and place him on probation for the same amount of time.

The state Attorney General’s Office filed papers of its own Aug. 5 urging the appeals court to reverse LeBlanc and order White to serve the remainder of his two-year prison term. The office contends the judge acted as a one-person pardon board.

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.

“White has been in jail in connection with this case for 10 days. Brittney Deville lived for 73 days,” Assistant Attorneys General David Weilbaecher and Kurt Wall stress in the documents they filed at the appeals court earlier this month. “Mr. White has not served sufficient time to satisfy ‘fundamental fairness’ when Brittney’s life span is taken into consideration.”

“The commutation of White’s original sentence neither satisfies his debt to society nor the debt he owes to a dead little girl,” Weilbaecher and Wall add.

White’s attorneys, Steven Moore and Mark Plaisance, counter 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.

“To order White incarcerated after such a lapse of time would certainly violate well-established precedent and render meaningless the core principles of liberty and justice,” they claim.

In her ruling, LeBlanc said enforcing the sentence now would amount to an inordinate delay that would violate the fundamental principles of liberty and justice. She choked up when explaining to Brittney’s family the reasons behind her ruling.

Moore and Plaisance point out that White — who was 19 at the time of the fatal crash — 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.

“Though being older and leading a standard life outside of the custody of the Department of Corrections,” Weilbaecher and Wall contend, “nothing about White has been presented to demonstrate that Judge (John) Peytavin imposed an illegal or excessive sentence warranting the extraordinary judicial action of Judge LeBlanc.

“The State submits that the defendant has not done anything extraordinary to warrant an extraordinary remedy by the judiciary.”

White, who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in July 1995 and was sentenced in December of that year in the death of 10-week-old Brittney Deville, was traveling at an estimated speed of 75 mph on Airline Highway in Ascension Parish on July 31, 1994, when he ran into the back of a car carrying the infant and several others, according to Weilbaecher and Wall.

White 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 under 21, a reading of 0.02 percent is presumptive evidence of drunken driving.

Brittney, who was unrestrained, was thrown from the vehicle.

She died a day later from her injuries.