Thursday, February 09, 2012

Summary 2012 WY 16

Summary of Decision February 9, 2012

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

Case Name: Wyatt L. Bear Cloud v. The State of Wyoming

Citation:  2012 WY 16

Docket Number: S-11-0102

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

Representing Appellant (Defendant): Diane Lozano, State Public Defender, PDP; Tina N. Olson, Appellate Counsel; Kirk A. Morgan, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel.  Argument by Mr. Morgan.

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

Date of Decision: February 9, 2012

Facts: On August 26, 2009, Appellant Wyatt Bear Cloud and two co-defendants were involved in the armed burglary of a residence in Sheridan, Wyoming.  During the course of the burglary, one of Bear Cloud’s co-defendants shot and killed one of the home’s residents.  Bear Cloud was charged with, and ultimately pleaded guilty to,  Murder in the First Degree (Felony-Murder), in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-101(a) (LexisNexis 2011); Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Burglary, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-1-303(a) and 6-3-301(a) and (c)(i) (LexisNexis 2011); and Aggravated Burglary, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann.  § 6-3-301(a) and (c)(i) (LexisNexis 2011).  He was sixteen years of age at the time of these offenses.  In addition to his sentences on the burglary and conspiracy charges, Bear Cloud was sentenced to life imprisonment for his conviction for felony-murder.  He now appeals his convictions and sentences on numerous grounds. 

Issues:  Bear Cloud presents the following issues for review: 1) Was Appellant’s trial counsel ineffective, specifically by: (A) inviting intrusion into the attorney-client relationship, (B) waiving his meritorious appellate issues and (C) incorrectly advising him of the consequences of his pleas, thus rendering his pleas involuntary? 2) Is a motion to transfer a case to juvenile court a dispositive motion, so it may be the subject of conditional guilty pleas? 3) Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it refused to transfer Appellant to juvenile court? 4) Does the sentence of life in prison for a juvenile who did not commit or intend to commit a homicide violate the [Eighth] Amendment of the United States Constitution? 5) Does the sentence of life in prison for a juvenile who did not commit or intend to commit a homicide violate Art. 1, § 14 of the Wyoming Constitution? 6) Does the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment provided in the [Eighth] Amendment of the United States Constitution and Art. 1, § 14 of the Wyoming Constitution, prohibit the imposition of mandatory life imprisonment on a juvenile when the sentencing court cannot take into consideration the child’s age, culpability or other mitigating factors? 7) Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying Appellant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas?  Appellee, the State of Wyoming, generally relies upon the same issues. 

Holdings: The Court concluded that the district court did not err in denying  Bear Cloud’s motion to transfer the proceedings to juvenile court nor did it abuse its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.  To the extent his appellate claims survive the entry of a guilty plea, trial counsel was not ineffective in her representation of Bear Cloud.  Further, Bear Cloud’s assertion that his life sentence for felony-murder was unconstitutional, under either the United States Constitution or the Wyoming Constitution, failed.  A sentence of life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole, for a juvenile offender convicted of felony-murder satisfies the constitutional mandates of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 14 of the Wyoming Constitution.  Finally, Wyo. Stat. Ann.  § 6-2-101(b) was not rendered unconstitutional by its mandatory sentencing structure, even as applied to a juvenile offender, and particularly in light of the district court’s ability to consider mitigating circumstances when considering whether to transfer proceedings to juvenile court.  Bear Cloud’s convictions and sentences were affirmed in all respects.

Judge Donnell delivered the opinion for the court.

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