Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wyoming Supreme Court
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The case involves Camilo Jesus Alarcon-Bustos, who was convicted of felony property destruction and misdemeanor reckless driving and possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage. Alarcon-Bustos lost control of his truck while towing a trailer, causing significant damage to a park. The damage exceeded $18,000. Witnesses testified that Alarcon-Bustos and another man appeared intoxicated at the scene. Alarcon-Bustos claimed he had not been drinking and that the accident was caused by a problem with the wheel of his truck.At trial, Alarcon-Bustos was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to two to four years of incarceration, suspended in favor of two years of probation. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the prosecutor committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments by misstating the law and referring to facts not in evidence.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the prosecutor did not misstate the law regarding the "knowingly" element of felony property destruction. The court also found that while the prosecutor did reference a conversation with a prospective juror during closing arguments, which was not in evidence, this did not materially prejudice Alarcon-Bustos. The court concluded that Alarcon-Bustos did not establish plain error, and thus, his conviction was upheld. View "Alarcon-Bustos v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Audrey Mae Lessner, who was convicted of felony child abuse under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-503(b)(i) (2023) after a bench trial. The charges stemmed from an incident where Lessner, while babysitting an 11-year-old child identified as FF, spanked the child eleven times with a belt as punishment for lying. The spanking resulted in significant bruising on the child's thigh. Lessner appealed her conviction, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by denying her motion to continue the trial and that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that she did not engage in reasonable corporal punishment.Prior to the trial in the District Court of Sweetwater County, Lessner had sought to represent herself, a request that the court granted after advising her of the risks. She later filed a motion for an extension of time, claiming that the prosecution was not assisting her in obtaining information for a subpoena. However, she later informed the court that she no longer needed an extension and was ready for trial. On the first day of the bench trial, Lessner filed a motion for an emergency hearing, asserting that she was not ready to proceed because the State was denying some discovery. The court denied her motion and proceeded with the trial.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. It found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Lessner's motion to continue the trial. The court also found that the State presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the physical injury inflicted on the child was not the result of reasonable corporal punishment. The court noted that Lessner's actions, including her decision to use a belt to avoid injuring her hand and her refusal to stop spanking the child other than to rest her arm, did not represent a method of correction but rather an adult who had lost control of her own responses. View "Lessner v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Kamie Hultberg, who was convicted for felony child abuse under Wyoming Statute § 6-2-503(b)(i). The incident occurred when Hultberg, after a night of drinking, discovered her children were not at home as expected. She found her children at a friend's house, and upon returning home, an argument ensued between Hultberg and her 13-year-old daughter, AH. The argument escalated, leading to Hultberg physically assaulting AH by pulling her hair and repeatedly striking her head and face. A coworker of Hultberg, who was present during the incident, called 911, reporting that Hultberg was "beating her children."The District Court of Campbell County convicted Hultberg of child abuse after a three-day trial. The court sentenced her to four to five years in prison, which was suspended in favor of four years of supervised probation. Hultberg appealed the conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove she committed the offense.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence, including a clump of hair consistent with AH's and the visible swelling and discoloration on AH's face, was sufficient to conclude that Hultberg inflicted physical injuries on AH. The court also determined that these injuries were not the result of reasonable corporal punishment, as Hultberg claimed. The court noted that Hultberg's actions represented an adult who had lost control of her responses, rather than a method of correction or a reasonable means of obtaining the child's attention and compliance. View "Hultberg v. State" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Hassan Ahmed Said, who was sentenced to two to four years in prison for three separate counts in three different dockets. The district court awarded credit for time served as follows: 115 days against the sentence in one docket, 100 days against the sentence in the second docket, and 153 days against the sentence in the third docket. Said argued that the district court erred by not awarding the 153 days credited in the third docket against his sentences in the first and second dockets.Previously, the district court had denied Said's motion to correct an illegal sentence in the first and second dockets. Said claimed that the district court erred by awarding the 153 days credit from his third arrest only to the third docket. He argued that the 153 days of presentence confinement should have been credited to all three dockets. The district court held that Said was awarded proper credit for time served and found that he was entitled to nothing more.In the Supreme Court of Wyoming, Said contended that his sentence was illegal because the district court declined to award credit for the 153 days he spent in presentence confinement from his third arrest against his concurrent sentences in the first and second dockets. The State argued that the 153 days Said spent incarcerated from his third arrest is directly related to separate criminal charges, so Said is not entitled to the additional credit in the first and second dockets. The Supreme Court agreed with the State and affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Said received credit for the actual time served against his total term of imprisonment, and therefore his sentence is legal. View "Said v. State" on Justia Law

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The case involves Russell Patrick Benedict, who was convicted of sexually abusing his sixteen-year-old daughter, AB. During the investigation, Benedict's cellphone was seized, and a warrant was obtained to search its contents. However, the phone's contents were never searched as Benedict claimed he could not remember the passcode. After his conviction, Benedict filed a motion for the return of his and AB's cellphones. The State objected to the return of Benedict's phone, suspecting it contained nude photos of AB, which would constitute child pornography. The district court denied Benedict's motion without taking evidence on it, leading to an appeal.The State conceded that the district court should have received evidence before ruling on Benedict's motion and requested a reversal and remand for the district court to receive evidence. The Supreme Court of Wyoming granted the State's motion and ordered the matter to be remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on Benedict's motion.The district court held the evidentiary hearing, during which the State argued against the return of Benedict's cellphone based on its earlier assertion that it likely contained child pornography. The district court found that the State had an interest in preventing the dissemination of child pornography and in preventing further trauma to AB. It concluded that the State had an interest in retaining Benedict's phone and denied Benedict's motion for its return. Benedict appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the district court's decision, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the State had met its burden of proving an interest in retaining Benedict's cellphone. View "Benedict v. State" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Kenya H. Bindner, who was convicted of possession of marijuana and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. The authorities executed a search warrant at Bindner's residence, where they found methamphetamine and marijuana. Bindner was standing near the location where the drugs were found. He was charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, one count of felony possession of methamphetamine, and one count of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.During the trial, Bindner's defense was that while the drugs were present in the residence, they were not his and he did not possess them. However, a text message exchange between Bindner and his girlfriend suggested that he had knowledge of the methamphetamine and had an intent to control it. The jury found Bindner guilty on all three counts. The district court dismissed the count for possession of methamphetamine on double jeopardy grounds and sentenced Bindner to a combined prison term of five to eight years on the remaining counts.Bindner appealed, claiming that his counsel was deficient in his failure to produce a potentially exculpatory witness statement. After an evidentiary hearing, the court concluded that defense counsel's performance was deficient as he failed to reasonably investigate the witness statement, which ultimately led to the exclusion of the witness's testimony. However, the court concluded that Bindner had not demonstrated a reasonable probability that the result of his trial would have been different. Therefore, the court denied Bindner's motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. View "Bindner, Jr. v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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The case involves Travis No'Mana Gonsalves, who was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, third-degree sexual abuse of a minor, and sexual exploitation of children. The charges stemmed from an incident where Gonsalves, while sharing a bed with his 15-year-old stepdaughter, AA, in a hotel, moved closer to her, caressed her chest area over her bra, and placed his legs between hers. AA felt his erect penis against her and told him to stop. The next morning, Gonsalves apologized for his actions. He later told his biological son that he regretted touching AA. The incident was reported to the police, and a search of Gonsalves's electronic devices revealed child pornography and pictures of AA in a bikini and a towel.The District Court of Natrona County held a two-day jury trial. Gonsalves was acquitted of two counts of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor based on the photographs of AA but was found guilty on the remaining counts. He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of incarceration for seven to ten years for the sexual abuse of a minor convictions, and one consecutive term of eight to ten years for the sexual exploitation of children conviction. Gonsalves appealed the two sexual abuse of a minor convictions, arguing that the State failed to present sufficient evidence for the jury to find he had the necessary intent to be convicted for sexual abuse of a minor.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to infer that Gonsalves was awake during the incident and that he acted with the intent of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse. The court also found sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Gonsalves acted knowingly when he took "immodest, immoral or indecent liberties with" AA. View "Gonsalves v. State" on Justia Law

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Solomon Bolen was convicted of multiple offenses, including attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery. Bolen appealed, arguing that the district court violated his due process rights by not instructing the jury on his plea of not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency (NGMI). He also claimed that his attorneys were ineffective for not seeking those instructions. Additionally, Bolen contended that his convictions for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery violated his right against double jeopardy.The district court had found Bolen mentally fit to proceed with the trial. Despite Bolen's NGMI plea, the court-designated examiner, Dr. Wilkinson, opined that Bolen did not meet the statutory criteria for an NGMI defense. She noted that Bolen's altered state of mind and psychosis at the time of the crimes were caused by self-induced intoxication, which is specifically excluded from the statutory definition of mental illness or deficiency. Bolen's attorneys did not pursue the NGMI defense and focused instead on the self-induced intoxication defense.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Bolen did not present competent evidence to support an NGMI defense, and thus was not entitled to have the jury instructed on the defense. The court also found that Bolen's attorneys were not ineffective for not pursuing the NGMI defense, as the instructions would not have been proper even if they had renewed their request for them. Lastly, the court held that Bolen's convictions for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery did not violate his right against double jeopardy, as the crimes contained separate elements. View "Bolen v. State" on Justia Law

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Wesley de Sousa Soares, a Brazilian national and professional jiu jitsu fighter, was charged with four counts of first-degree sexual assault. The charges stemmed from an encounter with a woman, KB, whom he met through an online dating application. KB alleged that Soares sexually assaulted her multiple times at her residence until she managed to escape. Soares, however, claimed that KB had consented to their sexual encounter. While in custody, Soares made phone calls in Portuguese, which were recorded and later translated. These recordings were admitted as evidence during the trial.The District Court of Albany County convicted Soares on three of the four counts. Soares appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in admitting the audio recordings without an accompanying English transcription. He also claimed that the prosecutor committed misconduct during cross-examination and closing arguments, and that the court committed structural error by providing the jury with equipment to listen to the audio exhibits.The Supreme Court of Wyoming disagreed with Soares' arguments. The court found no reversible error in the trial court's admission of the audio exhibits without an English transcription. It also found no prosecutorial misconduct during cross-examination or closing arguments. Lastly, the court acknowledged that the trial court erred in providing the jury with equipment to listen to the audio exhibits without first screening the recordings, but it ruled that this error was not structural and that Soares had waived this claim by failing to object. Consequently, the court affirmed Soares' conviction. View "Soares v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, John Gustke (Father) contests a decision by the District Court of Natrona County, Wyoming, which partially denied several motions to set aside the forfeiture of a $100,000 surety bond. The bond was linked to a criminal case involving Father's son, Karl Gustke (Criminal Defendant), who violated his bond conditions and absconded from the state. Father was jointly liable for the bond through a promissory note and indemnity agreement with the surety and surety's insurer. The District Court also denied Father's motion to intervene in the case as a matter of right under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure (W.R.C.P.), without giving notice to Father.The Supreme Court of Wyoming found that the District Court had erred by not providing Father with notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard on his motion to intervene. The court reversed the District Court's order denying Father's motion to intervene and remanded the case for a properly noticed hearing and for any further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The Supreme Court did not reach a decision on the remission of the bond, stating that it would be premature given the District Court's error. View "Gustke v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law