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Morris v. State

July 10, 2009

SANDON W. MORRIS, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Uinta County, The Honorable Dennis L. Sanderson, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hill, Justice

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

Hill, J., delivers the opinion of the Court; Golden, J., writes separately concurring in part, dissenting in part.

[¶1] A jury convicted Sandon W. Morris of felony property destruction. He appeals the conviction claiming: (1) the State presented insufficient evidence that he "knowingly" damaged the property; (2) plain error occurred when the district court failed to instruct the jury concerning the meaning of "knowingly;" and (3) the prosecutor incorrectly defined the term "knowingly" in closing argument and such argument constituted misconduct requiring reversal of his conviction. His fourth contention is that the district court abused its discretion when it awarded restitution based upon the fair market value of the damaged property. We reverse and remand on the basis of the prosecutor‟s misconduct in closing argument.

ISSUES

[¶2] Mr. Morris presents the following issues:

1. The State did not present sufficient evidence to prove that he "knowingly" damaged the property of another.

2. The trial court committed error in failing to instruct the jury on the element of "knowingly."

3. The trial court committed plain error in allowing the prosecutor to misdefine the element of "knowingly" to the jury.

4. The sentence improperly assessed restitution.

FACTS

[¶3] On the night of June 20, 2007, C.P., a high school student, parked her 1994 Toyota Tercel in the parking lot of a McDonald‟s Restaurant in Evanston, Wyoming, while she and her boyfriend went "cruising" in his car. When her boyfriend returned to the parking lot later, he found her vehicle had been damaged. C.P. reported the damage to the police department, and Patrol Sergeant Douglas Matthews investigated.

[¶4] Sergeant Matthews inspected the vehicle and observed that the top of the car was caved in, there were scratches all over the hood, there were scuff marks and scratches on the trunk, and one of the quarter panels was kicked in. Sergeant Matthews later spoke with Mr. Morris who said he could have been at McDonald‟s that night but did not damage any vehicles. Sergeant Matthews also spoke with Randy Stone who said he saw Mr. Morris jump on the vehicle. C.P. told Sergeant Matthews an automobile repair company estimated the cost of repairs at $2,394.98.

[¶5] Based on the information Sergeant Matthews obtained, the State charged Mr. Morris with felony destruction of property in violation of the following statute:

§ 6-3-201. Property destruction and defacement; grading; penalties; aggregated costs or values.

(a) A person is guilty of property destruction and defacement if he knowingly defaces, injures or destroys property of another without the owner‟s consent.

(b) Property destruction and defacement is: . . . .

(iii) A felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than ten (10) years, a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00), or both, if the cost of restoring injured property or the value of the property if destroyed is one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) or more.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-201 (LexisNexis 2009). Mr. Morris entered a plea of not guilty to the charge. A jury trial convened and concluded when the jury returned a guilty verdict. The district court sentenced Mr. Morris to serve two to four years, splitting the sentence so that he would serve one year in the Uinta County Detention Center and four years supervised probation. The district court further ordered Mr. Morris to pay restitution to C.P. in the amount of $1,400.00.

DISCUSSION

1. Sufficiency of the evidence that Mr. Morris "knowingly" ...


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