Man can appeal drug conviction |

Man can appeal drug conviction

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jeffrey Howard Gautier remains in prison serving 28 years to life, but a reverse ruling by El Dorado Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury could help untie his tangled legal process.

Gautier, 35, appeared before Kingsbury Monday for a resentencing hearing.

He was granted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus after concerns rose about the severity of his third-strike felony.

Habeas corpus is an order for an inmate to appear before the court. It places the burden of proof on those detaining the person to justify the detention.

In 1998, Gautier was sentenced to 28 years to life after he was found guilty of smuggling 5.9 grams of marijuana into El Dorado County Jail in October 1997. He arrived to serve a sentence of driving with a suspended license.

With two violent or serious felonies behind him, Gautier became a candidate for California’s Three Strikes law after receiving the felony count of bringing drugs to jail.

On June 17, Kingsbury deemed the felony excessive but reversed her decision Monday when she said El Dorado County Superior Court has no jurisdiction on the sentencing.

It is a decision for the Third District Court of Appeals, Kingsbury said. The court was supposed to hear the petition instead of superior court. The mistake only prolongs Gautier’s appeal.

She sent Gautier back to Mule Creek State Penitentiary in Ione, Calif., to serve his sentence with the possibility of going to the court of appeals.

“I support the Three Strikes law and there are a number of criminals in state prison who can attest to that,” Kingsbury said.

However, Kingsbury said three strikes is “something I’ve wrestled with the most in my career.”

She said she was troubled that the law puts offenders away for 25 years to life when murderers are sentenced to 15 years to life.

Critics of the Three Strikes law wonder if it falls under cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from extraordinary punishment.

Gautier’s rap sheet includes two prior convictions for first-degree burglary and one conviction of assault with a deadly weapon. He has been in prison three times.

During the hearing, Gautier sat silently in the jury box in an orange jail jumpsuit. His hands were shackled in front of him and his eyelids appeared heavy. After the decision, he asked if he could address Kingsbury.

“I just wanted to thank you for the ruling you made,” he said.

— Contact William Ferchland at (530) 542-8014 or

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