Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 159

Summary of Decision November 30, 2011

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

Case Name: Large v. State

Citation: 2011 WY 159

Docket Number: S-11-0068


Appeal from the District Court of Park County, Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge

Representing Appellant (Defendant): Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Appellate Counsel; David E. Westling, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff): Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Stewart M. Young, Faculty Director, Prosecution Assistance Program.

Date of Decision: November 30, 2011

Facts: The appellant was charged with six crimes arising from an incident when he stole and crashed a vehicle. In this appeal he claims that his right to a speedy trial was violated and that he was denied his right to counsel without being adequately instructed and warned of the dangers of proceeding without counsel.

Issues: Whether the appellant received a speedy trial. Whether the district court properly informed the appellant of the dangers of proceeding without counsel and the penalties he faced.

Holdings: Speedy trial questions are governed by both the rules of criminal procedure and the federal constitution. W.R.Cr.P. 48 governs the time period between arraignment and trial; however, delays between the time of charge and the time of trial are also subject to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. W.R.Cr.P. 48(b)(2) requires that: “A criminal charge shall be brought to trial within 180 days following arraignment unless continued as provided in this rule.” In deciding this issue, we must first determine the proper date of arraignment.

The appellant argues that date of the arraignment hearing should be construed as being on October 28, 2009 because that was the date originally set for that purpose. The appellant’s trial began on September 27, 2010, which would have resulted in a 334-day delay between arraignment and trial – far exceeding the 180 days allowed in W.R.Cr.P. 48. While the appellant advocates for that date, he also concedes that the October 28, 2009, hearing did not meet the requirements of W.R.Cr.P. 10, as no charges were read and no plea was entered. The State argues that the actual arraignment had to be delayed until April 14, 2010, which date resulted in a delay less than the 180 days prescribed by W.R.Cr.P. 48. The State contends that the appellant caused most of the delay between his arrest and arraignment as he continually undermined his appointed attorneys’ efforts effectively to represent him.

The appellant did significantly delayed both his arraignment and trial by asking numerous times for appointment of a new attorney. The record is replete with efforts by the appellant to refuse, change or dismiss counsel. W.R.Cr.P. 48 specifically states that delays attributable to a defendant’s change of counsel or application thereof are excluded from the 180-day period under the rule.

In addition to the delays caused by the appellant’s efforts to change counsel, further delay occurred when it became necessary to determine the appellant’s competency prior to arraigning him. When the appellant’s competency became an issue, it was incumbent on the district court to address that matter prior to arraignment. W.R.Cr.P. 48 also specifically excludes from the speedy trial computation all proceedings related to the mental illness or deficiency of the defendant. Where the primary reason for the delay is the determination of the defendant‘s mental competency to stand trial, Wyoming law requires suspension of all criminal proceedings until the district court can make a determination of the defendant’s mental competency. In the present case, once the district court had adequately addressed the appellant’s competency, it arraigned him on the six charges and conducted his jury trial within 180 days of that arraignment.

As to the Six Amendment constitutionally imposed speedy trial requirements. Four factors are considered in determining whether a speedy trial violation has occurred: the length of delay; the reason for the delay; the defendant’s assertion of [his or her] right; and the prejudice to the defendant.

There is no precise length of delay that automatically constitutes a constitutional speedy trial violation. However, when the delay is so protracted as to be presumptively prejudicial, inquiry into the other factors is required. In the present case, although the 363-day delay between the appellant’s arrest and trial was long, it was not extraordinary. Nevertheless, the other three will be analyzed inasmuch as shorter delays have warranted such examination.

Regarding the second factor – the reason for the delay –the appellant was responsible for the majority, if not all, of the delay. Any delays attributable to the State are weighed against those attributable to the defendant. Unquestionably, delays attributable to the defendant may disentitle him to speedy trial safeguards. While no single factor is dispositive, under the particular facts presented here, this factor weighs heavily against the appellant’s speedy trial violation claim.

As to the third factor, the appellant obviously asserted his right to a speedy trial: once in his own handwritten motion, and once through his third appointed counsel. However, he did so while at the same time making a consistent and seemingly calculated effort to undermine the efforts of his court-appointed attorneys, which actions caused significant delays. Such conduct contradicted the appellant’s stated desire for a speedy disposition of his case.

Finally, the fourth factor focuses on the degree of prejudice that the appellant suffered as a result of the delay. Prejudice is assessed in light of the particular evils the speedy trial right is intended to avert: (1) lengthy pretrial incarceration; (2) pretrial anxiety; and (3) impairment of the defense. The appellant argues that he was prejudiced by the delay inasmuch as his incarceration “limited his legal research, hindered his ability to serve subpoenas and eliminated his ability to investigate.” Such difficulties, however, are not the result of any delay in prosecution, but instead, as explained by the district court, are problems inherent in the appellant’s decision to represent himself. It cannot be said that the appellant suffered any delay-related prejudice that he did not cause.

The delay in this case did not violate the appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that a defendant in state court shall have the right to represent himself if the accused himself timely, knowingly, and intelligently requests the right to forgo counsel, and does not do so to cause delay. If a defendant elects to proceed without counsel, “the court must make him aware of the disadvantages and the dangers of self-representation..

In the present case, the district court cautioned the appellant that it considered “it detrimental for [the appellant] to not accept or employ counsel to represent [him].” Also, it expressly detailed the numerous “dangers and disadvantages to self-representation.” Furthermore, the district court properly explained to the appellant the charges and potential sentences he faced, and the appellant told the court he understood this advice. The district court concluded clearly and on the record that the appellant had “knowingly and intelligently waived [his] right to counsel. Finally, the court expressly told the appellant “that at any time you can change your mind to retain counsel to represent you or to petition the Court for appointment of counsel to represent you to assist with your defense.”

The district court adequately instructed the appellant on the dangers of proceeding without counsel and he was not denied the assistance of counsel.

Appellant was afforded a speedy trial as it occurred within the 180-day time period required by W.R.Cr.P. 48 and met the constitutional requirements of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Also, the appellant’s right to counsel was not violated as he was properly informed and warned of the dangers of proceeding without counsel.


J. Voigt delivered the opinion for the court.

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