Church Treasurer Sentenced to Six Years at Hard Labor

Treasurer wrote unauthorized checks to pay her own bills, showed no remorse.

State v. Bruce, 886 So.2d 636 (La. App. 2004)

Amy was the church treasurer of a church in Louisiana for four years. Each month she wrote unauthorized checks from the church's account to pay her insurance premiums. She also wrote monthly unauthorized checks to herself from the church's account. In most of these cases she forged a co-worker's signature on the checks. The total amount of the unauthorized checks was in excess of $79,000.

The state charged Amy with felony theft and forgery, but agreed to drop the forgery charge in return for her agreement to plead guilty to the theft charge. A court sentenced her to six years in a state penitentiary at hard labor. Amy was 58 years of age at the time of her sentencing. She claimed that she took church funds to pay her medical bills.

Prior to imposing sentence, the court carefully considered the evidence supporting Amy's sentence as well as evidence supporting a more lenient sentence. The following evidence supported a more lenient sentence:

  • age (58 years old)
  • poor health
  • no prior criminal record

On the other hand, the following evidence supported a sentence of 6 years at hard labor:

  • Amy had not shown any remorse for her crime
  • she had never apologized or accepted complete responsibility for her acts
  • she had not paid "one penny" of restitution
  • she had used her position of trust to commit the crime
  • the offense caused significant economic loss to the church
  • the offense involved multiple incidents for which separate sentences could have been imposed

Amy appealed her sentence on the ground that it was excessive. A state appeals court rejected her claim. It noted that a trial court has "broad discretion to sentence within the statutory limits," and that "absent a showing of abuse of that discretion, an appellate court may not set aside a sentence as excessive." The court concluded:

On this record, we do not find error. Amy was exposed to imprisonment for up to ten years but was sentenced to serve far less than that. The trial court carefully considered the facts and circumstances of this matter before imposing sentence. It is lawful and, under the unique circumstances of this case, is neither grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offense of conviction nor is it shocking to our sense of justice. There is no showing of a manifest abuse of the district court's discretion in the imposition of this mid-range sentence which is not constitutionally excessive.

In support of its decision the court referred to two recent cases in Louisiana in which 6-year sentences were imposed for felony theft. One case involved a 66-year-old woman who had embezzled $375,000 from her law firm employers over a period of six years. In affirming the 6-year sentence, the court noted she had abused a position of trust and engaged in an ongoing series of criminal acts which could have been punished separately. Further, there had been no restitution. In the second case, an attorney embezzled at least $18,000 from clients. In imposing a sentence of 6 years for felony theft the court noted that he had abused a position of trust.

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