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Chester Darral Fletcher v. the State of Wyoming

December 21, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of Park County The Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge

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

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

*Chief Justice at time of oral argument.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Chester Darral Fletcher pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter, but challenges the district court's findings of his competence to proceed both to trial and sentencing. Fletcher also disputes the court's denial of his motion to change his plea to "not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency." We affirm.


[¶2] Fletcher raises two issues before this Court:

1. The trial court erred in its decisions that [Fletcher] was competent to proceed to trial and to sentencing.

2. The trial court erred in refusing to allow [Fletcher] to change his plea to "not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency."


[¶3] Sometime in the 1990's, Chester Fletcher and Clay Coleman moved from Virginia to Sheridan and rented an apartment together. After their relationship deteriorated in 1998, Coleman obtained a civil judgment against Fletcher. As a result, Fletcher's car and motorcycle were seized. In both 2004 and 2006, Fletcher stole and wrecked Coleman's car.

[¶4] On July 9, 2007, Fletcher fired shots at Coleman in the Cody Wal-Mart parking lot and fled the scene. No one was injured in the shooting. Fletcher was later apprehended at his home in Cody and charged with one count of attempted first-degree murder, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-1-301(a)(i) and 6-2-101(a) (LexisNexis 2009), and one count of reckless endangering, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-504(a) (LexisNexis 2009).

[¶5] After being bound over to district court, Fletcher filed a motion to suspend the proceedings pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-11-303 (LexisNexis 2009) to determine if, as a result of mental illness, he was competent to proceed. Also, the motion "wondered" if, at the time of the crime, he lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Miller v. State, 755 P.2d 855, 861 (Wyo. 1988); see also Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-11-304(a) (LexisNexis 2009). His motion was granted. An evaluation conducted by Dr. Cathy Buckwell at the Wyoming State Hospital concluded that Fletcher was not suffering from a mental illness, and that he did not meet the statutory requirements for establishing the defense of not guilty by reason of mental illness. See § 7-11-304.

[¶6] Fletcher pleaded not guilty to all charges via video arraignment on November 6, 2007. His jury trial was set for April 28, 2008; however, less than a month before trial, he filed a motion for a competency hearing on the grounds that his own psychiatrist, Dr. Trent Holmberg, had found him not competent to proceed. The competency hearing was set twice, and continued twice, at the request of Fletcher. Fletcher also waived his speedy trial rights. The competency hearing was set for a third time in May of 2008. Prior to that hearing, Fletcher was re-evaluated by Dr. Buckwell on May 20-21, 2008, at the Wyoming State Hospital. Although Dr. Buckwell concluded that Fletcher had paranoid personality disorder, she continued to diagnose him as competent. Both Drs. Buckwell and Holmberg testified at length during Fletcher's competency hearing on June 10, 2008, after which the court found him competent to proceed to trial.

[¶7] Two weeks prior to trial, Fletcher filed a late motion to add to his plea of not guilty a plea of not guilty by reason of mental illness, pursuant to W.R.Cr.P. 11(a)(1)(B) and 12.2(a), and Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-11-304(c) (LexisNexis 2009), which allow a defendant to do so after arraignment for good cause. The State objected to Fletcher's motion, and the district court ultimately denied the motion.

[¶8] On September 19, 2008, pursuant to a plea agreement, Fletcher pleaded guilty to one count of attempted manslaughter, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-105(a)(i) and 6-1-301(a)(i) (LexisNexis 2009).

[¶9] Fletcher's sentencing hearing was scheduled for January 16, 2009, but he filed a motion to continue the hearing and suspend proceedings, arguing that the medical records he received from Park County Detention Center indicated his deteriorating mental health, making him unfit to proceed with sentencing. The court heard testimony from a doctor of nursing practice from the detention center and granted Fletcher's motion to continue. The court also ordered the parties to agree upon a designated examiner.

[¶10] The parties could not agree on the examiner, so the court ordered Fletcher to be examined by the Wyoming State Hospital. Dr. Ronna Dillinger, a psychology intern at the Wyoming State Hospital, found Fletcher competent to be sentenced.

[¶11] On April 13, 2009, Fletcher filed a motion requesting permission to be examined by an examiner of his choice. The State filed an objection and after a hearing, the court denied the motion, finding Fletcher competent to be sentenced. On August 24, 2009, Fletcher was sentenced to not less than 18 years nor more than 20 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. This appeal followed.


[¶12] In Follett v. State, 2006 WY 47, ¶ 10, 132 P.3d 1155, 1159 (Wyo. 2006), we stated:

In deShazer [v. State], 2003 WY 98, ¶ 12, 74 P.3d at 1244-45, we adopted the standards articulated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to review competency issues.

Although competence is a factual issue, that term . . . is not self-defining. Because competency to stand trial is an aspect of substantive due process, . . . the legal standard by which competency is to be evaluated is constitutionally mandated. Accordingly, the components of that standard, required as they are by the Constitution, do not vary according to the views of a particular court. The Constitution can require but one gauge against which to determine whether, because of his mental condition, a defendant's due process rights are violated by requiring him to stand trial. The content of the standard of competency is therefore a question of law which we review de novo.

Id. (citations omitted). We look to the following standard in evaluating the sufficiency of the processes used by the trial court in determining whether a defendant is competent to continue with legal proceedings:

Once the trial court has "evaluated a defendant's competency by the correct standard, the second inquiry on review is whether the trial court's determination of a defendant's competency is fairly supported by the record of the proceeding at which the determination [is] made. . . . In other words, the ...

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