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Martin v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

March 9, 2017

EUGENE MARTIN a/k/a E. MARTIN
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          Date of Judgment: 05/28/2015

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LEE SORRELS COLEMAN TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: MOLLIE MARIE McMILLIN GEORGE T. HOLMES.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Mississippi Code Section 99-19-81[1] authorizes the State to seek increased punishment for those charged with a felony offense after having twice been convicted of prior felonies. But for this statutory enhancement to apply, the State must prove each of the defendant's prior felony convictions resulted in a sentence of one or more years in a state or federal prison. If the State seeks enhanced sentencing, and the requirements are met, Section 99-19-81 mandates the court sentence the defendant to the maximum term of imprisonment for the subject offense-in this case ten years.

         ¶2. Eugene Martin, who recently was convicted of shooting into a dwelling and sentenced as a habitual offender under Section 99-19-81, claims one of his two prior qualifying felony convictions resulted in a sentence of less than one year. So he was wrongfully subjected to the sentencing enhancement. After review, we agree. We thus affirm Martin's conviction for shooting into a dwelling, but reverse and remand for resentencing.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3. After a night out at a club, Martin and Gene Sherrod got into an argument outside the apartments where they lived in Columbus, Mississippi.[2] Around midnight, a scuffle broke out between the two, and Sherrod choked Martin in a headlock. After he let go of Martin, the men returned to their apartments. A short time later, Martin returned to Sherrod's apartment armed with a pistol. When he was unable to force his way inside Sherrod's locked apartment, Martin fired several shots through the door.

         ¶4. On April 22, 2014, a Lowndes County grand jury indicted Martin for firing a weapon into a dwelling, in violation of Mississippi Code Section 97-37-29. The State moved to amend Martin's indictment to charge him as a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-81. The motion cited a 1982 conviction for burglary in Lowndes County and a 1994 federal bank-fraud conviction from California.[3] A hearing was held, and Martin's attorney made no objection to the State amending his indictment to seek enhanced punishment. After a two-day trial in May 2015, a jury found Martin guilty. Based on the habitual-offender enhancement, the trial judge sentenced Martin to the maximum term under the statute-ten years in prison. Martin filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial. The judge denied the motion.

         ¶5. On appeal, Martin's new counsel argues his sentence is illegal because the prior federal bank-fraud conviction did not result in a sentence of one year or more and does not meet Mississippi Code Section 99-19-81's requirements for a habitual-offender enhancement.[4]

         Discussion

         ¶6. Martin did not object to the judge imposing the mandatory maximum sentence under Section 99-19-81. And failure to object to a habitual-offender enhancement during sentencing procedurally bars a defendant from raising that issue on appeal. Cummings v. State, 465 So.2d 993, 995 (Miss. 1985) (citing Tucker v. State, 403 So.2d 1271 (Miss. 1981), and Tubbs v. State, 402 So.2d 830 (Miss. 1981)). But plain-error review allows this Court to correct obvious errors, not properly addressed below, which impact fundamental, substantive rights. See Smith v. State, 986 So.2d 290, 294 (¶ 10) (Miss. 2008) (citations omitted). An illegal sentence is an obvious error subject to plain-error review.[5] See Conner v. State, 138 So.3d 143, 150-51 (¶ 19) (Miss. 2014) (citing Grayer v. State, 120 So.3d 964, 969 (Miss. 2013)).

         I.Habitual-Offender ...


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