from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable
Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge
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.
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.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
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.
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
the first issue is dispositive, we do not address the second
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.
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? ...