Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 75

Summary of Decision issued July 1, 2008

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Haynes v. State

Citation: 2008 WY 75

Docket Number: S-07-0263

Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County, the Michael N. Deegan, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Kerin, Appellate Counsel; Eric M. Alden, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel.

Representing Appellee: Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling. Senior Assistant Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Assistant Attorney General.

Facts/Discussion: A jury convicted Haynes on two counts of first degree sexual assault. He appealed claiming the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for sexually assaulting a “physically helpless” victim; the prosecutor committed misconduct by misinforming the jury concerning the effect of its verdict and by using victim impact evidence to inflame the jury’s passion; and the district court erred in refusing to address the issue of his mental competency before sentencing.
Sufficiency of the Evidence:
The Court’s task was to determine whether evidence was presented from which the jury could have found that each element of first degree sexual assault was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury heard testimony from which it could have concluded that the victim was asleep and therefore physically helpless when the assault occurred. The jury also heard testimony from which it could have concluded that the victim woke during the sexual assault. The evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.
Prosecutorial Misconduct:
The Court agreed with the district court that the prosecutor’s question of the forensic psychologist regarding whether the State could detain Haynes if he were found not guilty by reason of mental illness was highly improper. The prosecutor’s question raised the specter that a verdict of not guilty by reason of mental deficiency would result in Haynes’ release, a matter that was not within the province of the jury and had the potential to distract the jury from its fact-finding responsibility. The Court continued with their review considering whether a reasonable probability existed that the jury would have returned a verdict of not guilty or not guilty by reason of mental illness if the prosecution had not asked the improper question. After the Court reviewed the record, they stated that a reasonable possibility did not exist that the jury would have returned a verdict of not guilty or not guilty by reason of mental illness. The Court strongly cautioned Wyoming prosecutors from questions and arguments that inform or misinform the jury concerning the consequences of its verdict.
The State waved a photo of the victim in front of the jury during closing argument. The record reflects that the statement made and the photo shown occurred during closing argument. The law is clear that victim impact evidence is inappropriate during the guilt phase of a criminal prosecution. The Court referred to their non-exhaustive list of factors (from Trujillo) for evaluating whether material prejudice resulted. The comment was isolated in the instant case and there was nothing in the record to suggest the prosecutor made the remark or used the photo to divert the jury’s attention.

Mental Incompetence:
A sex offender risk assessment was made of Haynes. Within the report was a statement that indicated that Haynes functioned at the level of a six or seven year old child. The record reflects that the district court compared the statements contained in the risk assessment with the earlier testimony presented on the competency issue and found that no new evidence was presented.

Holding: The State presented evidence from which a jury could reasonably concluded the victim in this case was asleep and therefore, “physically helpless” as required under the first degree sexual assault statute. Haynes was not materially prejudiced by the prosecutor’s improper comments during witness questioning and closing argument. The district court appropriately considered the issue of Haynes’ mental competence throughout the proceedings, including sentencing.


J. Kite delivered the decision.

Link: http://tinyurl.com/6ancql .

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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