The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, in light of the Ramos v. Louisiana case, should take another look at the case of a Lake Charles man who received a life sentence in 2018 as a habitual offender.
Will Antonio Celestine, 34, previously appealed his sentence, saying he found it shocking and excessive.
In 2019, the 3rd Circuit affirmed his life sentence.
Ramos v. Louisiana was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the court ruled 6-3 that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that guilty verdicts for criminal trials be unanimous.
Only cases in Louisiana and Oregon were affected by the ruling because other states already had this requirement.
The decision incorporated the Sixth Amendment requirement for unanimous jury criminal convictions against the states, thereby overturning the court's previous decision from the 1972 case Apodaca v Oregon.
There are many cases such as Celestine's which either were already decided, in progress or in the appeals process when the Ramos v. Louisiana decision came down. While some cases are being sent back to appeals court for further review that does not mean convictions would automatically be overturned or new sentences would be put in place, especially in cases that were already decided before the Ramos v. Louisiana decision was final.
Celestine was convicted of attempted illegal use of a weapon at trial in 2017 and was subsequently sentenced as a habitual offender in state district court.
The defendant had eight prior felony convictions, including ones for drug possession with intent to distribute, theft, simple escape, aggravated flight from an officer and obscenity.
Don Dixon, former chief of police at the Lake Charles Police Department, testified at trial he considered Celestine to be the "No. 1 menace to society."
Dixon told the court he had been dealing with Celestine for 16 years and that the defendant had 38 criminal files with law enforcement agencies. He testified Celestine's last arrest had cost the department $38,000.
That incident involved Celestine's high-speed chase from police with a child in the car. Authorities said Celestine was on the run for nearly a week and there was a standoff before he was captured in Lafayette.
While he still faced trial on those charges, Celestine is serving a life sentence for a 2015 crime after being sentenced as a habitual offender in state district court.
Loren Lampert, a former prosecutor with the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's Office, said after sentencing, "The Habitual Offender Act is used in the worst cases and not in every case that it can be. And in this instance, Mr. Celestine had demonstrated the absolute inability to exist in society with us without breaking the rules and harming others."
Lampert told Judge Mike Canaday at sentencing the D.A.'s office had offered several plea deals to Celestine prior to trial but he had rejected all offers.