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Dougherty v. State

August 17, 2010

RICKY L. DOUGHERTY, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, The Honorable Peter G. Arnold, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Voigt, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT*fn1, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Ricky L. Dougherty (Dougherty) was convicted by a jury of abusing a vulnerable adult in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-507 (LexisNexis 2009). Dougherty appeals from the judgment and sentence of that case arguing that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support a conviction. We agree with Dougherty and will reverse.

ISSUE

[¶2] Was sufficient evidence presented to prove Dougherty committed "abuse" of a vulnerable adult as provided in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-507?*fn2

FACTS

[¶3]The facts of this case are straightforward and uncontroverted. The victim was a patient in the Acute Rehabilitation Center of Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, where she was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Dougherty, who by all accounts did not know the victim, walked into the victim‟s room, masturbated in front of her, and then left. Dougherty was subsequently charged with intentional or reckless abuse, neglect, abandonment, or intimidation of a vulnerable adult, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-507. A jury convicted Dougherty of intentional abuse of a vulnerable adult. Dougherty was sentenced to not less than eight (8) years nor more than ten (10) years confinement in the Wyoming Department of Corrections. This appeal by Dougherty followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶4] The issue presented requires this Court to interpret the meaning of "punishment" found in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-20-102 (a)(ii)(C) (LexisNexis 2009), as it is used to define the term "abuse," found in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-507. Based on that interpretation, we must then determine whether sufficient evidence was presented to constitute "abuse" so as to support a conviction under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-507.

Statutory interpretation presents a question of law which we review de novo. Qwest Corp. v. State ex rel. Dept. of Rev., 2006 WY 35, ¶ 8, 130 P.3d 507, 511 (Wyo. 2006).

When interpreting statutes, we follow an established set of guidelines. First, we determine if the statute is ambiguous or unambiguous. A statute is unambiguous if its wording is such that reasonable persons are able to agree as to its meaning with consistency and predictability. Unless another meaning is clearly intended, words and phrases shall be taken in their ordinary and usual sense. Conversely, a statute is ambiguous only if it is found to be vague or uncertain and subject to varying interpretations.

BP America Prod. Co. v. Department of Revenue, 2006 WY 27, ¶ 20, 130 P.3d 438, 464 (Wyo. 2006), quoting State Dept. of Revenue v. Powder River Coal Co., 2004 WY 54, ¶ 5, 90 P.3d 1158, 1160 (Wyo. 2004). If a statute is clear and unambiguous, we give effect to the plain language of the statute. State ex rel. Wyo. Dept. of Revenue v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 2003 WY 54, ¶ 12, 67 P.3d 1176, 1182 (Wyo. 2003).

Fuller v. State, 2010 WY 55, ¶ 5, 230 P.3d 309, 310 (Wyo. 2010) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Dep't of Revenue, 2009 WY 139, ¶ ...


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