Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 98

Summary of Decision issued August 19, 2008

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

Case Name: Smith v. State

Citation: 2008 WY 98

Docket Number: S-07-0160

Appeal from the District Court of Albany County, the Honorable Jeffrey A. Donnell, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Megan L. Hayes, Laramie, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney general; Graham M. Smith, Assistant Attorney General.

Facts/Discussion: Smith was convicted after a jury trial of possession, manufacture or disposition of a deadly weapon with unlawful intent, use of a firearm while committing a felony and first degree murder. Shortly after sentencing, an article was published in the Wyoming Lawyer which quoted Juror Hanschen about his attitude toward the “insanity plea” and guilt.
Motion for New Trial on Basis of Newly Discovered Evidence:
The State argued that Smith’s allegation of juror misconduct was not properly raised in a motion for a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence. They argued that only newly discovered evidence concerning the merits of the criminal case may be presented under Rule 33(c) and that juror misconduct should have been brought in a petition for post-conviction relief. When a federal rule of criminal procedure is similar to the State’s corresponding rule, the Court looks to federal case law for guidance. The Court reviewed federal court cases interpreting Fed.R.Crim.P. 33(b)(1). Many of the cases assume, without discussion, that such a complaint may be brought pursuant to the rule provided the evidence is truly “newly discovered.” The Court noted that in deciding the issue, it was helpful to consider Braley v. State. The Braley decision indicated that the Court would not limit the application of Rule 33(c) to newly discovered evidence pertaining to the merits of the crime.
Juror Misconduct:
In order to obtain a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence, a defendant must establish each of the following factors: he did not become aware of the new evidence until after the trial; it was not because of lack of due diligence that the new evidence did not come to light sooner; the evidence is so material that it would probably produce a different result; and the evidence is not cumulative. The State focused on the substantive question of whether Smith could show that Hanschen was biased against Smith’s mental illness defense and did not honestly answer voir dire questions about that bias. Requests for a new trial on the basis that a juror was not honest during voir dire or was biased may be brought in different ways. A claim may be brought under the principles articulated in McDonough where the party must demonstrate that a juror intentionally failed to answer honestly a material question, and then further show that a correct response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause. The district court concluded that the article, the notes and author Angell’s testimony taken together were confused and inconclusive as to whether Hanschen had a pre-existing bias or prejudice. Also, Hanschen consistently stated that he would follow the court’s instructions. A party can also obtain a new trial by showing that the juror has an actual or implied bias. The Court agreed with the district court’s acceptance of Hanschen’s explanation of the inconsistencies in his statements as believable. The Court noted that even a prospective juror who has bias may be properly seated on a jury if he can set aside any supposed bias and decide the case only on the evidence presented in court.

Holding: The Court concluded that Smith’s motion for a new trial was properly before the Court. Smith did not offer a cogent argument that Mr. Hanschen was impliedly biased in accordance with Skaggs, presumably because there was no evidence that he had any personal connection to the parties or circumstances of the trial or that there were similarities between Mr. Hanschen’s personal experiences and the issues being litigated.


J. Kite delivered the decision.

Link: http://tinyurl.com/5dxrkl .

[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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