Friday, January 20, 2012

Summary 2012 WY 9

Summary of Decision January 20, 2012

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

Case Name: Schaeffer v. State of Wyo.

Citation:  2012 WY 9

Docket Number: S-11-0060

Appeal from the District Court of Sheridan County, The Honorable John G. Fenn, Judge

Representing Appellant (Defendant):  Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Appellate Counsel.  Argument by Ms. Olson.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff): Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Senior Assistant Attorney General.  Argument by Mr. Rehurek.

Date of Decision: January 20, 2012

Facts:  The appellant was convicted of one count of aggravated assault and battery after he waved around a flare gun during an altercation at a bar. 

Issues:  1.)Whether the district court abused its discretion when it did not appoint substitute counsel; 2) Whether the district court denied the appellant his right to self-representation; 3) Whether the appellant was physically restrained excessively during the trial; 4) Whether plain error occurred when the trial court did not instruct the jury to disregard the fact that the appellant was physically restrained; 5) Whether the district court erred when it did not order a competency hearing during trial; 6) Whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied the appellant’s motion for new trial as untimely; 7) Whether the district court engaged in judicial bias; 8) Whether there was sufficient evidence presented that the appellant’s flare gun was a deadly weapon; and 9) Whether plain error occurred when the State referred to allegedly incorrect and improper information at the sentencing hearing.

Holdings:  The trial court did not err when it did not allow the appellant to dismiss his attorney on the second day of trial.  The record showed that the appellant did not demonstrate that his attorney was incompetent or suffered from a conflict of interest which would justify a substitution of counsel. 

Additionally, the trial court did not violate the appellant’s right to self-representation, as the appellant never made an unequivocal request to represent himself.  The record as a whole showed that the appellant did not want to proceed pro se, and there were no facts to conclude that the appellant made “an intentional relinquishment or abandonment” of his right to counsel. 

The trial court did not require excessive physical restraints, and not instructing the jury regarding the shackles did not constitute plain error.  The appellant was charged with aggravated assault and battery and had engaged in disruptive and potentially violent behavior directed towards the court. The Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the appellant required hand and feet shackles to ensure the safety of everyone in the courtroom.  Furthermore, based upon the record, the Court found the appellant was not uninformed of the dangers of letting the jury see his shackles.  Instead, the record suggested he intentionally chose to expose them nonetheless.  The Court observed that while it may have been better to give an instruction, neither Wyoming law nor federal law has ever required such. The appellant failed to demonstrate he suffered prejudice of a substantial right.   

After the appellant had initially been deemed competent to proceed, the circumstances at trial were not such that would have required an additional competency evaluation.   The Court found that the trial court’s decision not to revisit the competency issue was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The trial court did not have the authority to allow the appellant to file a motion for new trial outside the time confines of W.R.Cr.P. 33 and, therefore, it did not abuse its discretion when it denied the motion as untimely. 

There was sufficient evidence presented at trial that a flare gun is a deadly weapon as used in the crime of aggravated assault and battery.   The jury was presented with substantial evidence that the appellant waved and pointed a flare gun in an extremely hostile manner, and that the flare gun was capable of causing serious bodily injury or death.   

Finally, the trial court did not exhibit judicial bias against the appellant, and the State did not provide the trial court with inappropriate or incorrect information at the sentencing hearing.

The Court Affirmed. 

J. Voigt delivered the opinion for the court.

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