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Saunders v. Hornecker

Supreme Court of Wyoming

March 5, 2015

FRISCO S. SAUNDERS, Petitioner,
v.
SKIP HORNECKER, Sheriff of Fremont County, Respondent. TIMOTHY M. DWYER, Petitioner,
v.
SKIP HORNECKER, Sheriff of Fremont County, Respondent. BYRON AMOS, Petitioner,
v.
SKIP HORNECKER, Sheriff of Fremont County, Respondent

Page 772

Original Proceeding. Petitions for Writ of Certiorari Circuit Court of Fremont County. The Honorable Robert B. Denhardt, Judge (Docket No. S-14-0171). The Honorable Wesley A. Roberts, Judge (Docket Nos. S-14-0172 and S-14-0173).

For Petitioners: Daniel O. Caldwell, III, Senior Assistant Public Defender.

For Respondent: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; James M. Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Caitlin F. Young, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Causey.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ., and DAY, D.J.

OPINION

Page 773

DAY, District Judge.

[¶1] Petitioners Byron Amos, Timothy Dwyer, and Frisco Saunders were held in the Fremont County Detention Center on unrelated criminal charges. None of the Petitioners were able to post the cash-only bail imposed by the lower courts as a condition of their pretrial release, and each Petitioner therefore remained in jail pending trial. In these consolidated cases, Petitioners request a determination from this Court that cash-only bail is impermissible under the Wyoming Constitution and Rules of Criminal Procedure. We affirm the lower courts' use of cash-only bail in this case and hold that cash-only bail does not violate Article 1, Section 14 of the Wyoming Constitution

Page 774

or Wyoming Rule of Criminal Procedure 46.1.

ISSUES

[¶2] Petitioners present a single issue for the Court's review, stated as follows:

Whether the term " shall be bailable by sufficient sureties" as found in Article 1, Section 14 of the Wyoming Constitution and W.R.Cr.P. 46.1 authorizes the setting of a " cash only" bond in criminal proceedings.

The State presents two issues on appeal:

1. In Wyoming, a petition for habeas corpus relief is limited to questions concerning the jurisdiction of the trial court. Does the imposition of a cash-only bond implicate the jurisdiction of the court?
2. Article 1, Section 14 of the Wyoming Constitution and W.R.Cr.P. 46.1 provide that criminal defendants " shall be bailable by sufficient sureties." In three noncapital cases involving different defendants, the Fremont County Circuit Court determined that each defendant would be bailable by a cash-only bond in an amount set by the court. Does imposition of cash-only bail violate the Wyoming Constitution or the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure?

FACTS

[¶3] On May 4, 2014, Riverton Police officers responded to a report that someone fired a gun in the men's restroom of a bar. Upon arrival, the officers saw three men restraining Mr. Amos. The police searched Mr. Amos and found he was concealing a handgun.

[¶4] Mr. Amos was arrested on charges of interference with a peace officer in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-5-204(a) and carrying a concealed weapon in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-8-104(t)(vii). He was arraigned on May 6, 2014 and a bond was set as $2,000 " CASH BAIL." Mr. Amos was not able to post the required $2,000 in cash and remained in jail pending trial. He entered a guilty plea on August 1, 2014. Mr. Amos was sentenced to 180 days in jail with credit for the 90 days of time served while he awaited trial.

[¶5] On June 10, 2014, Mr. Dwyer turned himself in on an active arrest warrant for failing to appear in circuit court concerning an earlier charge of failure to maintain liability coverage. Mr. Dwyer was arraigned and his bond was set as $500 " CASH BAIL." Mr. Dwyer was not able to post the $500 cash bond and remained in jail. On July 3, 2014, Mr. Dwyer entered a guilty plea. He was sentenced to 23 days in jail, which was the equivalent of the time he had already served in jail pending trial.

[¶6] On June 4, 2014, Mr. Saunders was arrested on a warrant and charged with one count of aggravated assault and battery. On June 5, 2014, the circuit court set his bond as $100,000 " CASH BAIL." His charges were bound over to the district court and the bond was continued. Mr. Saunders was unable to post the required $100,000 in cash and remained in jail pending trial after entering a not guilty plea.

[¶7] On June 26, 2014, each Petitioner filed a petition to this Court for habeas corpus relief seeking immediate release from the Fremont County Detention Center. Each of the Petitioners asserts his petition requires interpretation of both a constitutional provision and the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure and, thus, this Court is best suited to make those interpretations. The Petitioners also assert this Court is the appropriate venue because if the questions of interpretation were decided at the district court level, the decision would not apply in other districts in the state. This Court consolidated the petitions for review.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶8] The interpretation and application of the Wyoming Constitution is a question of law, reviewed de novo. E.g., Harmon v. Star Valley Med. Ctr., 2014 WY 90, ¶ 16, 331 P.3d 1174, 1178 (Wyo. 2014). The interpretation of criminal procedure rules is also a question of law subject to de novo review. E.g., Deeds v. State, 2014 WY 124, ¶ 39, 335 P.3d 473, 483 (Wyo. 2014).

DISCUSSION

A. Mootness

[¶9] As a threshold matter, the Court notes at least two of the three Petitioners

Page 775

are no longer in jail and their convictions have been entered, which raises an issue of mootness. This Court has stated that challenges to bail are generally moot after a conviction. Vigil v. State, 563 P.2d 1344, 1346 (Wyo. 1977). However, a court can proceed to decide technically moot issues where (1) the issue is of great public importance; (2) it is necessary to decide the issue to provide guidance to agencies or to the lower courts; or (3) the controversy is capable of repetition yet evading review. E.g., Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial Dist. v. Lee Newspapers, 2014 WY 101, ¶ 12, 332 P.3d 523, 528 (Wyo. 2014) (citing Operation Save Am. v. City of Jackson, 2012 WY 51, ¶ ¶ 22, 23, 275 P.3d 438, 448--49 (Wyo. 2012)).

[¶10] We conclude that the question of whether cash-only bail is unconstitutional or in violation of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure falls under the exception for issues that are likely to evade review. Pretrial bail issues are generally short-lived. Thus, failure to decide this issue impacts those defendants who are unable to post cash-only bail. Further, a decision on this matter will provide guidance to the lower courts in Wyoming. Accordingly, we find a sufficient basis for providing review of the Petitioners' claims in this case.

B. Habeas Relief

[¶11] Before addressing the merits of this case, we must first address whether a petition for habeas corpus is the appropriate avenue for obtaining relief in this case. Petitioners seek habeas corpus relief directly from this Court through Rule 3 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Wyoming, in effect at the time the petitions were filed.[1] The Petitioners assert this Court is the appropriate venue, without first resorting to lower courts, because the petitions present constitutional questions and questions of statutory interpretation. The State asserts that habeas corpus proceedings are improper to review the constitutional permissibility of cash-only bail and can only be used to challenge the trial court's jurisdiction. See, e.g., Nixon v. State, 2002 WY 118, ¶ 12, 51 P.3d 851, 854 (Wyo. 2002) (" Review in a state habeas corpus action is not time limited, but is seriously limited in scope so that defendants may only raise a claim going to the subject matter or personal jurisdiction of the court." ) (citing Hovey v. Sheffner, 16 Wyo. 254, 93 P. 305, 307--08 (Wyo. 1908)); State ex rel. Hopkinson v. District Court, Teton Cnty., 696 P.2d 54, 60 (Wyo. 1985) (" A court's judgment cannot be impeached by a writ of habeas corpus except for jurisdictional reasons." ) (citing Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-27-125 and Hollibaugh v. Hehn, 13 Wyo. 269, 79 P. 1044 (Wyo. 1905)).

[¶12] This Court, however, has discretion to convert the current petition into either a petition for a writ of review or a petition for a writ of certiorari under W.R.A.P. 13.01.[2]E.g., State ex rel. Dep't of Workforce Servs. v. Hartmann, 2015 WY 1, ¶ 16, 342 P.3d 377, 381--82 (Wyo. 2015) (converting an attempted appeal to a writ of review); Schwab v. JTL Group, Inc., 2013 WY 138, ¶ 14, 312 P.3d 790, 794--95 (Wyo. 2013) (converting an appeal to a writ of review); Stewart Title Guar. ...


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