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Sadler v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

June 3, 2016

JUSTIN JOHN SADLER, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge

         Representing Appellant:

          Office of the Public Defender: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Eric M. Alden, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Alden.

         Representing Appellee:

          Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; James M. Causey, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Philip M. Donoho, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Donoho.

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

          FOX, Justice

         [¶1] Appellant Justin John Sadler was convicted by a jury of aggravated assault under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(iii) (threatening to use a drawn deadly weapon). Prior to his trial in state court, Mr. Sadler was convicted in federal court of being a felon in possession of a firearm, based on the same circumstances that gave rise to his state charges. The State indicated that it would seek to admit this prior conviction under W.R.E. 609(b) if Mr. Sadler testified. The district court reserved ruling on whether Mr. Sadler's federal conviction would be admissible, however, it observed that if Mr. Sadler denied possessing the firearm, the probative value of the prior conviction "escalates off the charts." Mr. Sadler elected not to testify at trial. He now challenges the propriety of the district court's comments, claiming that the court improperly chilled the exercise of his constitutional right to defend himself by testifying on his own behalf. Because he did not preserve the issue he now raises on appeal, we affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] We restate the issues as follows:

1. Did Mr. Sadler preserve his claim that the trial court improperly advised him of his right to testify when it declined to rule on the admissibility of his prior conviction, but commented on its probative value?
2. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it reserved ruling on W.R.E. 609 evidence, but commented on its probative value?

         Because the first issue is dispositive, we do not address the second issue.

         FACTS

         [¶3] Mr. Sadler's former girlfriend claimed that he held her at gunpoint, prevented her from leaving his residence, and forced her to have sex with him. He was charged by the State with first-degree sexual assault, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-302(a)(i); kidnapping, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-201(a)(iii)(d); and aggravated assault, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(iii) (threatening to use a deadly weapon). Mr. Sadler was on parole from an earlier federal felony drug conviction, and, as a result of these events, he was charged in federal court with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The state charges were delayed while the federal charge was tried. Mr. Sadler was convicted on the federal charge and a federal sentence was imposed. He then returned to state court for the proceedings involved here.

         [¶4] In his pretrial memorandum, Mr. Sadler stated that he "may or may not testify." After the State completed its case-in-chief, and outside of the presence of the jury, the district court asked whether Mr. Sadler intended to testify. His counsel advised that they had made a decision, but needed the lunch hour to discuss the matter. The district court then advised Mr. Sadler regarding his right to testify or not testify on his own behalf and indicated that the court would inquire as to whether Mr. Sadler's attorney had advised him regarding "the pros and cons of deciding to invoke [his] right to remain silent" after the lunch recess. Counsel for the State then raised the possibility of introducing evidence of prior convictions under Rule 609 of the Wyoming Rules of Evidence in the event that Mr. Sadler testified. The following exchange occurred:

[COUNSEL FOR THE STATE]: And, Your Honor, there may be a 609 question as far as Mr. Sadler's convictions for felonies.
THE COURT: Well, I'll -- are you asking that I inquire about that on the record?
[COUNSEL FOR THE STATE]: I think it would make sense.
THE COURT: Mr. Sadler, have you discussed the fact with your counsel -- and I'm not asking you what the substance of it is but I'm asking you just if you've discussed with your counsel what is called Rule No. 609 of the Wyoming Rules of Evidence? ...

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