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Secrest v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

August 29, 2013

Charles Frederick SECREST, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).

Page 883

Representing Appellant: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Eric M. Alden, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel, Wyoming Public Defender Program, Cheyenne, WY. Argument by Mr. Alden.

Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Theodore R. Racines, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Darrell D. Jackson, Faculty Director, Prosecution Assistance Clinic; Emily Thomas, Student Director; and Jared D. Holbrook, Student Intern. Argument by Mr. Holbrook.

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

HILL, Justice.

[¶ 1] Following a jury trial, Charles Secrest (Secrest) was found guilty of aggravated assault and battery. On appeal, Secrest contends that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when the court denied his motion to continue his jury trial to allow his newly retained counsel additional time to prepare for trial. Secrest further contends that the jury's special verdict findings contain inconsistencies that require a new trial. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] Secrest states the issues on appeal as follows:

I. Was Mr. Secrest denied his constitutional right to representation by the attorney of his choice?
II. Was the jury's verdict defective?

FACTS

[¶ 3] On the evening of August 13, 2011, Secrest was at a bar in Big Piney, Wyoming with some of his co-workers, including Zach Barnes. Secrest and Barnes had a disagreement, and after they left the bar, Secrest struck Barnes on the head and face with a beer bottle. As a result of the beating, Barnes received five sutures to his lip, four sutures to his forehead, and four sutures to this cheek.

[¶ 4] On October 20, 2011, a criminal information was filed in district court, charging Secrest with one count of aggravated assault and battery. Secrest pled not guilty at his October 26, 2011 arraignment and requested a jury trial. On October 27, 2011, the court issued an order setting a trial date of April 2, 2012.

[¶ 5] On March 12, 2012, Secrest submitted a letter to the court, stating that he did not feel that he was receiving adequate legal representation and requesting appointment of a new public defender. On March 14, 2012, the court held a hearing on Secrest's request. The court informed Secrest that appointment of new counsel would temporarily stop the speedy trial clock and delay trial, and Secrest indicated his understanding of this. On March 15, 2012, the court issued an order directing the appointment of a new public defender to represent Secrest.

Page 884

[¶ 6] On April 2, 2012, a new public defender was assigned to represent Secrest, and on April 5, 2012, the court issued a second case management order setting a new trial date of June 25, 2012. On May 7, 2012, the court held a pretrial conference, during which no continuances were requested and Secrest stated that he was satisfied with his attorney's representation. On June 5, 2012, Secrest filed a Motion to Continue Jury Trial. In support of this motion, Secrest stated that he needed to schedule eye surgery, that he needed to retain a forensic expert to review photographs and reports relating to the victim's injuries, and that his attorney needed additional time to prepare for trial. The State objected, and on June 11, 2012, the court issued an order denying the motion to continue.

[¶ 7] On June 18, 2012, one week before trial, Secrest filed a second motion to continue. In support of this motion, Secrest stated that he had retained private counsel, that his private counsel required additional time to prepare for trial, and that he was waiving his right to a speedy trial. On June 19, 2012, Secrest's private counsel filed a motion for substitution of counsel, and on June 20, 2012, Secrest's public defender filed a motion to withdraw as counsel. The State objected to the motion to continue and the related motions to withdraw and substitute counsel. The State objected on grounds that Secrest had not shown good cause for the continuance and that a continuance would prejudice the State. With regard to prejudice, the State argued that its case rested largely on eyewitness accounts and further delay would prejudice the State because memories may fade, witnesses may become unavailable, and the State had already purchased a non-refundable airline ticket for one of its witnesses.

[¶ 8] On June 22, 2012, the court held a hearing on all pending motions. During that hearing, Secrest informed the court that he was satisfied with the representation that both his retained and appointed attorneys had provided him. The court then heard argument and denied the motion to continue. In so ruling, the court explained:

COURT: ... I'm totally understanding of a defendant's desire to obtain counsel of his choosing given his ability to do so, but in this case I'm concerned based on what I've seen just in the chronology that I went through a few moments ago for [private counsel's] benefit where there's a replacement of counsel due to dissatisfaction of representation by the Defendant in March that delayed the first trial, there's appointment of new counsel and then in early June there's a motion to continue for reasons that are set forth in that first motion to continue, but for reasons which I found did not constitute good grounds or good cause to want me to grant an order allowing a continuance of the jury trial.... Mr. Secrest apparently just submitted his agreement with [private counsel] to represent him two days ago, not even two full days ago, Wednesday the 20th, and again we're on Friday, the trial is set for Monday. I'm having a tough time trying to balance in the interest of justice and fairness this motion to continue this trial so that [private counsel] can get up to speed given the manner in which this chronology has come forward almost— I mean we're approaching— we've exceeded 10 months, we're approaching 11 months from the date that the incident occurred, allegedly occurred that led to these charges. This is not, within my view, the concept of speedy trial that the Defendant has a right to, the State has a right to and the Court is obligated to enforce. Given the overall circumstances, the chronology on how this has occurred, ..., for reasons of potential prejudice to the State, if they have witnesses who are beyond the subpoena power of this Court and those witnesses just change their mind, they're not going to put up with continuances and interruption of their daily lives ...

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