Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wyoming Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant, after a remand, to an aggregate sentence of twelve to fifty years for aggravated robbery, to be served consecutively to a previously imposed sentence for first-degree murder, holding that Defendant's aggregate sentence was constitutional.When Defendant was seventeen years old he and a friend robbed and murdered a hitchhiker. Defendant pled guilty to first degree murder, felony murder, and aggravated robbery. Defendant was convicted to life without parole, which the court later converted to life with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years for murder plus twenty to fifty years for aggravated robbery. Defendant later filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that his new aggregate sentence remained a de facto life sentence. The trial court denied the motion, but the Supreme Court remanded. On remand, the trial court resentenced Defendant to twelve to fifty years for aggravated robbery, to be served consecutively to the previously imposed sentence for murder. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it sentenced Defendant for aggravated robbery. View "Davis v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Appellant's parental rights, holding that the district court violated Appellant's due process rights when it determined the best interests of the child without first conducting an evidentiary hearing.The district court found that the Department of Family Services established statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. On appeal, Appellant argued that he was not given an opportunity to be heard on the question of whether termination was in the child's best interests. The Supreme Court held (1) neither the termination statutes nor Wyoming case law require a separate hearing to determine the best interests of the child; but (2) Appellant's due process rights were violated when he was deprived of the opportunity to be heard on the question of best interests. View "Niland v. State, ex rel. Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Defendant's appeal from the district court's dismissal of his pro se "Petition for Exoneration Based on Factual Innocence," holding that Defendant did not properly invoke the Supreme Court's jurisdiction.Defendant was convicted of three counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree and one count of sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree. Defendant later filed his petition for exoneration under Wyo. Stat. Ann. 7-12-401 through -407. The district court dismissed the petition without prejudice, determining that the petition was statutorily noncompliant. Defendant appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that the dismissal of Defendant's petition was not a final, appealable order, and therefore, this Court lacked jurisdiction over Defendant's appeal. View "Woods v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of aggravated assault and battery and mandatory life sentence, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel.In charging Defendant, the State sought a habitual criminal sentencing enhancement under Wyo. Stat. Ann. 6-10-201. After a trial, the jury convicted Defendant and found that he qualified for the habitual criminal enhancement under section 6-101-201(b)(ii). The court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment. Defendant appealed, arguing that his trial counsel did not communicate with him in a manner that enabled him fully to understand he was facing a life sentence, and this deficiency fell below the standard of professional conduct. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to establish prejudice. View "Lewis v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for one count of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree and one count of child endangerment, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it did not evaluate taint sua sponte or when it denied Defendant's motion to continue trial, and the prosecutor did not commit prejudicial misconduct.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it did not evaluate taint during the competency hearing; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's motion to continue trial; (3) the prosecutor did not commit prejudicial misconduct; and (4) the district court did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Shields v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of first degree sexual abuse of a minor, holding that the district court did not err in allowing the State to withdraw from its plea agreement with Defendant and that Defendant was not denied the right to testify in his own defense.Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant agreed to plead no contest to third degree sexual abuse of a minor. The State subsequently filed a motion to withdraw from the plea agreement. After a hearing, the district court granted the motion. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of first degree sexual abuse of a minor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the State withdraw from its plea agreement before Defendant acted on his promise to change his plea and Defendant did not otherwise assert that he detrimentally relied on the agreement before the State withdraw from it, the agreement wasn't to an enforceable contract, and the district court did not err in granting the State's motion to withdraw from it; and (2) Defendant did not assert a cognizable claim that his right to testify was denied. View "Nelson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree and attempted murder in the first degree, holding that Defendant was not denied his right to a speedy trial or his right to a fair trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant was not denied his statutory or constitutional right to a speedy trial; (2) Defendant failed to establish that he was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel; and (3) Defendant failed to establish that he was denied his constitutional right to due process of law or a fair trial due to prosecutorial misconduct. View "Fairbourn v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions on three counts of second-degree attempted murder, thirteen counts of aggravated assault and battery, and one count of interference with a peace officer, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court’s finding of no discriminatory purpose in the State’s exercise of peremptory challenges was not clearly erroneous; (2) Defendant's right to a fair trial was not violated when the district court refused to individually query jurors about their exposure to pretrial publicity; (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant’s pretrial motion for a continuance; (4) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal; (5) Defendant did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel; and (6) because there was no error, cumulative error did not deprive Defendant of a fair trial. View "Pickering v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.Defendant parked his car in a parking lot and was on his way into a bar when Officer Andy Lucus approached him and asked if they could talk. Defendant agreed. While they were talking, two other officers arrived at the scene. Officer Lucus asked if Defendant had proof of insurance. When Defendant could not locate his proof of insurance Officer Lucus wrote a "no insurance" citation. In the meantime, the other officers retrieved a K-9 named Lord to perform a free-air sniff of Defendant's vehicle. After Lord alerted to the smell of drugs Officer Lucus searched the vehicle and found methaphetamine. On appeal, Defendant conceded that his encounter with Officer Lucus began as consensual but asserted that the encounter changed to an unlawful investigatory detention when Officer Lucus requested proof of insurance. The Supreme Court affirmed without deciding the issue, holding that Lord's free-air sniff was lawful whether Defendant was free to leave or not. View "Kern v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from his home, holding that the district court did not err when it concluded that the warrantless search of Defendant's home was constitutional under the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.After the district court denied his suppression motion, Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to various drug crimes, including possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, possession of methamphetamine, and possession of marijuana. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that intrusion into Defendant's home was lawful and justified by the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. View "Ferch v. State" on Justia Law