Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Summary 2013 WY 47

Summary of Decision April 24, 2013

Justice Burke delivered the opinion for the Court. Convictions affirmed. Sentence vacated and remanded.


Docket Number: S-11-0151


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

Representing Appellant: Diane E. Courselle, Director, and Samantha Lind, Cally Lund, and Brian Quinn, Student Interns, Defender Aid Program, University of Wyoming College of Law. Argument by Ms. Lind.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Justin A. Daraie, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Daraie.

Date of Decision: April 24, 2013

Facts: Appellant, Dharminder Sen, was convicted of first-degree felony murder, aggravated burglary, and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary for his participation in the killing of Robert Ernst after breaking into Mr. Ernst’s home with Wyatt Bear Cloud and Dennis Poitra, Jr. He challenged his convictions on a number of grounds, and contended that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional under the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Miller v. Alabama, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012).

Issues: Sen presents six issues, which we discuss in the following order:

1. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it failed to grant Dhar Sen’s motion to transfer his case to juvenile court, where the court did not meticulously consider the evidence, made inadequate findings, and made serious mistakes weighing the relevant factors?

2. Did the trial court err when it denied Dhar Sen’s motion to suppress his confession where the confession was involuntary as the product of coercion and failure to knowingly and intelligently waive his right to an attorney?

3. Did the trial court err when it found that the gunshot residue kit obtained without a warrant was admissible at trial?

4. Whether excluding expert testimony by Dr. Marie Banich, offered for the purpose of calling into question the specific intent element of aggravated burglary (and felony murder), violated Dhar Sen’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense?

5. Whether Dhar Sen was denied effective assistance of counsel due to his attorney’s failure to investigate and failure to raise significant issues at sentencing?

6. Whether a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or commutation, for a homicide committed at the immature age of 15, violates Dhar Sen’s constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment under the United States and Wyoming Constitutions?

The State phrases the issues in a substantially similar manner.

Holdings: The Court found no error impacting Sen’s convictions and, accordingly, affirmed those convictions. However, Sen’s sentence of life without parole was imposed under a sentencing scheme that precluded the possibility of parole. As a result, Sen’s sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and relevant Supreme Court precedent. Accordingly, the Court vacated Sen’s sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing on all counts.

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

[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. You will also note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you need to provide a pinpoint citation to a quote the universal portion of the citation will use that paragraph number. The pinpoint citation in the P.3d portion will need to have the reporter page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation from this, or any future opinion using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library and we will provide any needed assistance]

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