Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 123

Summary of Decision August 25, 2011

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

Case Name: Baker v. State

Citation: 2011 WY 123

Docket Number: S-10-0229, S-10-0230


Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, Honorable David B. Park, Judge

Representing Appellant (Defendant): David Dale Baker, pro se.

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

Date of Decision: August 25, 2011

Facts: Appellant was convicted on six methamphetamine-related charges. He was sentenced to imprisonment for six to eight years on each of the first four charges, with the sentences to be served concurrently. He was sentenced to imprisonment for eighteen to twenty-four months on each of the last two charges, with the sentences to be served concurrently, but consecutive to the sentences on the first four counts. He appealed. His convictions on two of the charges were reversed and affirmed the other four. [See: Baker v. State, 2010 WY 6 (Wyo. 2010)] The action was remanded to the district court for resentencing. On remand, the district court imposed the same sentences as before on the remaining four charges. In these consolidated Appellant challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. He also claims that the district court erred when it did not grant him access to e-mail correspondence between the Wyoming Department of Corrections and the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office.

Issues S-10-229: Whether the rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), is applicable where the consecutive sentence Appellant received is beyond the statutory maximum, and was not presented to the jury for the enhancement of the sentence. Whether it was a violation of the Constitution where Appellant was sentenced with, but did not receive any notice that he was being charged with, nor was he convicted by the jury of a cumulative crime. Whether the Court could not sentence Appellant to a consecutive sentence where there is no statutory authority to do so. Whether the Double Jeopardy Clause was violated as the sentences Appellant received were required to merge where conviction of the underlying felony was required in order to convict and impose a sentence for child endangerment.

S-10-230: Whether it was clear error for the Court to deny Appellant access to the Court by ruling the Court had no jurisdiction to order the Wyoming Honor Farm to produce documents in its possession relating to Appellant. Whether pursuant to Wyoming law Appellant has a Constitutional right to any and all documents referencing and identifying him in the possession of the Wyoming Department of Corrections. Whether Appellant has a Constitutional right to the required service of all documents filed into the District Court.

Holdings: A trial court’s denial of a motion to correct an illegal sentence is reviewed by using an abuse of discretion standard. However, this discretion is limited to a determination by the trial court as to whether the sentence was legal or illegal. An illegal sentence is one which exceeds statutory limits, imposes multiple terms of imprisonment for the same offense, or otherwise violates constitutions or the law. Whether a sentence is illegal is determined by referencing the applicable statute or constitutional provisions, and is subject to statutory interpretation. Appellant contends that his consecutive sentences violate the holding in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) that other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Appellant argues that the imposition of consecutive sentences increased the penalty for his crimes beyond the prescribed statutory maximum, and therefore, Apprendi mandates that the decision to impose consecutive sentences be made by a jury, not the district court. However, the argument that judicial imposition of consecutive sentences violates the Sixth Amendment has been soundly rejected by the courts and therefore, Appellant’s contention is rejected.

Appellant’s second issue is a variation on his first. Based again on Apprendi, Appellant claims that he was improperly denied prior notice that he was charged with a crime for which the penalty could be enhanced by consecutive sentencing. However, consecutive sentences are not enhanced sentences subject to the rationale of Apprendi and Appellant’s second issue is, therefore, meritless.

Appellant’s third issue is a claim that the district court had no authority to impose consecutive sentences. However, it has long been held said that the district court has discretion in determining whether the sentences will be served consecutively or concurrently. Appellant’s third issue also lacks merit.

Finally, in Appellant’s fourth issue, he claims that his sentences violate his rights against being placed in double jeopardy because they represent multiple punishments for the same offense. He contends that he could not have been convicted on charges of child endangerment unless he was also convicted on charges relating to the manufacture of methamphetamine. He therefore contends that the district court was required to merge his convictions for purposes of sentencing.

Merger of sentences implicates a defendant’s constitutional right to be free of multiple punishments for the same offense. This right is one component of the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. Consequently, the analytical framework necessary to resolve this issue is derived from the elements test set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932). It is readily apparent that the crime of child endangerment includes at least one element not found in the other two criminal statutes: the presence of a child. It is equally plain that the crimes of possession of a controlled substance precursor and conspiracy to engage in a clandestine laboratory operation include at least one element not found in the child endangerment statute: engaging, or intending to engage, in a clandestine laboratory operation. Appellant is incorrect in asserting that he could not have been convicted of child endangerment without first being guilty of engaging in methamphetamine manufacturing. A person may be convicted of child endangerment even if he is not actively involved in the manufacturing of the drug. Therefore, under the test set forth in Blockburger and adopted by the Court, the offenses are different because each requires proof of an element that the other does not. The district court was not required to merge the different crimes for sentencing.

Appellant’s arguments in Docket No. S-10-0230 do not merit detailed discussion. He sought the e-mail correspondence only to support a complaint that he intended to file with the Wyoming State Bar against the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office. Given these circumstances, the district court was correct in observing that “there may be other venues” in which Appellant would be entitled to obtain the information he sought, but his motion was “not appropriate” in the context of his ongoing criminal case.

We affirm the district court’s decisions in both Docket No. S-10-0229 and Docket No. S-10-0230.

J. Burke delivered the opinion for the court.

J. Voigt specially concurred expressing the same concerns about the doctrine of sentencing merger that he set forth in Najera v. State, 2009 WY 105. (Wyo. 2009).

J. Hill dissented stating that the district court erred in simply editing out the two convictions that were reversed in Appellant’s prior appeal. While a full-blown resentencing hearing was not required, although such hearing was most certainly within the broad discretion of the district court, a minimal requirement was that the district court actually re-weigh the sentences imposed in light of the reversal two of Appellant’s six felony convictions. Thus, the sentence imposed should be deemed to be “illegal” as contemplated by W.R.Cr.P. 35(a), and should be remanded to the district court so that a sentencing proceeding be conducted. The district court’s order denying Appellant’s motion to correct an illegal sentence should be reversed, and the matter should be remanded to the district court with directions that Appellant’s resentencing be conducted in light of the crimes for which he was convicted.

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