NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court has rejected a former sheriff’s deputy’s claim that she should be able to take back her guilty plea in her husband’s death because she made the plea rather than face a jury process that was later found unconstitutional.
The high court ruled 5-2 last week in the case of Chrystal Clues-Alexander, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to manslaughter in the death of 34-year-old Kendall Alexander, news agencies report. She was a lieutenant in the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office when her husband was shot to death at their home in December 2013.
Clues-Alexander understood the law as it then stood, the majority opinion said. The fact that she couldn't foresee that the U.S. Supreme Court would later find split convictions unconstitutional "did not make her guilty plea involuntary or unknowing or otherwise undo its binding nature,” the opinion said.
A grand jury charged Clues-Alexander, then Chrystal Alexander, in 2014 with second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. She pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, with a maximum 40-year sentence, after the trial judge twice rejected her attorney’s requests to require a unanimous verdict for conviction.
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries had to be unanimous to convict people of felonies.
A St. Martin Parish judge rejected arguments that Alexander had pleaded guilty because the court would not require a unanimous verdict, and therefore should be allowed to withdraw the plea. The state Third Circuit Court of Appeal overturned that ruling, but the state Supreme Court reinstated it and sent her case back to St. Martin Parish for sentencing.
Associate Justices Jefferson D. Hughes III and Piper D. Griffin dissented. They agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court decision does not cover guilty pleas, but said Clues-Alexander should have been able to withdraw her plea because it did not help her.
Clues-Alexander had notified the court that she planned to argue the shooting was justifiable homicide, Griffin wrote.
“The record is replete with numerous instances of domestic violence by Mr. Alexander against Ms. Clues, including immediately prior to the shooting,” she continued. “The open ended plea was of no benefit to Ms. Clues as she may still be given the maximum sentence. Further, the State concedes it would not be prejudiced by withdrawal of the guilty plea.”