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Hamilton v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

March 9, 2015

CURTIS J. HAMILTON, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Page 276

Appeal from the District Court of Sublette County. The Honorable Marvin L. Tyler, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Robert W. Horn, Robert W. Horn, P.C., Jackson, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Courtney A. Amerine, Student Intern. Argument by Ms. Amerine.

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

OPINION

Page 277

BURKE, Chief Justice.

[¶1] This appeal presents a question of first impression as to whether a court, under Wyoming Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(a), may increase a previously-imposed, legal sentence. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Curtis Hamilton pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine and child endangerment. He agreed to cooperate with the State and provide information about his criminal conduct, and he agreed that the State could move under W.R.Cr.P. 35(a) for an increase in his sentence if he did not meet this obligation. Several months after he was sentenced, the State asserted that he had failed to cooperate, and moved to modify his sentence. The district court granted the motion and imposed a new, more severe sentence. We conclude that, despite the parties' plea agreement, the district court lacked jurisdiction to increase the sentence. Accordingly, we vacate the new sentence and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ISSUE

[¶2] Did the district court have jurisdiction pursuant to W.R.Cr.P. 35(a) to increase a defendant's sentence of incarceration when the original sentence was a legal sentence?

Page 278

FACTS

[¶3] Mr. Hamilton was charged with one misdemeanor and eight felony counts involving possession and delivery of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine, and endangering a child. He negotiated a plea agreement with the State. Mr. Hamilton agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1042 and § 35-7-1031(a)(i) (LexisNexis 2011), and endangering a child in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-4-405(a)(ii) and (c). The State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges and to recommend a five- to eight-year sentence on the conspiracy charge.[1]

[¶4] As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Hamilton promised to cooperate with the State in providing information and testimony to assist the State in its investigation of other criminal activity. He agreed that, if he failed to cooperate, he would not object to the State's motion to modify his sentence pursuant to W.R.Cr.P. 35(a). This provision of the plea agreement read as follows:

I will cooperate with the government and provide accurate and truthful information about my involvement in criminal conduct, specifically the offenses charged in the Amended Information. I will also provide accurate and truthful information about criminal conduct pertaining to the illegal distribution of controlled substances by myself or acquaintances including but not limited to: [four identified individuals]. If, after the Court has accepted my plea pursuant to the terms and conditions of this Plea Agreement, I do not voluntarily cooperate and truthfully testify if called upon to do so in the criminal trials of [the same four individuals], or any other citizen about whom I have provided information pertaining to the illegal distribution of controlled substances, I acknowledge and agree that I will have breached the terms of this Plea Agreement. In the event of such a breach I will not be able to withdraw my plea to the offenses stated. In the event of such a breach, Defendant agrees not to contest or object to the State's filing of a motion pursuant to Rule 35(a) of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure in order to correct the Defendant's sentence to reflect his lack of fulfillment of this Plea Agreement. I understand that I will be re-sentenced on Count IX to a term of not more than twenty years, a fine of not more than $25,000.00, or both. I will be sentenced consecutively on Count II to a term of imprisonment of not more than five years, a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or both.

The district court accepted the plea, and imposed the agreed-upon sentence of five to eight years on the conspiracy charge. It also imposed a sentence of three to five years on the child endangerment charge, with the two sentences to be served concurrently. The remaining charges were dismissed.

[¶5] Several months after Mr. Hamilton was sentenced, the State filed a " Motion for Sentence Modification Pursuant to W.R.Cr.P. Rule 35(a)." The State alleged that Mr. Hamilton had breached the plea agreement by failing to cooperate and failing to provide complete, truthful, and forthright information as required. Despite his agreement not to object, Mr. Hamilton opposed the State's motion, claiming that he had not breached the agreement and that Rule 35(a) did not allow the State to seek an increase in a previously-imposed sentence.

[¶6] After an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the State's motion. In its decision letter, the district court detailed its findings that Mr. Hamilton had breached the plea agreement. It stated that the information Mr. Hamilton had provided at different times had " varied significantly as to amounts of the controlled substances involved and as to the source of the methamphetamine." The court found that Mr.

Page 279

Hamilton's " vacillations" had an immediate, irreversible impact on the State's ability to properly charge and prosecute the individuals referred to in the plea agreement, and that Mr. Hamilton's " intentional and affirmative efforts to destroy the value of his anticipated testimony, coupled with his recalcitrance to cooperate and truthfully testify, if ...


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