Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hamilton v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

June 15, 2017

SHAUN KENNETH HAMILTON, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Daniel L. Forgey, Judge.

          Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel. Argument by Ms. Olson.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Eva La, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. La.

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

          FOX, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] A jury found Shaun Kenneth Hamilton guilty of five counts of sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor for acts involving two victims. He appeals his conviction, claiming that there was prosecutorial misconduct amounting to cumulative error when the prosecutor, during closing argument, defined the burden of proof, denigrated Mr. Hamilton's defense, and shifted the burden of proof. We affirm.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] We rephrase the issue as follows: Was Mr. Hamilton denied his right to a fair trial by the cumulative error of two or more instances of prosecutorial misconduct?

         FACTS

         [¶3] There are two victims in this case, JP and KB. Mr. Hamilton is KB's stepfather, and lived with KB and her mother. KB testified that in 2015, when she was fourteen, Mr. Hamilton sexually assaulted her in her bedroom. The following day, KB went to school and told a friend about the incident, and the friend reported it to the school principal. The principal called the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS), and then called KB out of class. After speaking to the principal about the incident, KB left with a DFS caseworker. The DFS caseworker took KB to the Children's Project Center for a forensic interview and then to the hospital for a sexual assault kit examination. During the sexual assault kit exam, the nurse collected oral swabs from KB and DNA swabs from KB's abdomen. The Casper Police Department (CPD) obtained a search warrant for KB's residence, where they collected KB's mattress topper from her bed, a blanket, a pair of panties, a pair of sports pants, a black shirt, and a white towel. CPD also served Mr. Hamilton with a search warrant to perform a biological evidence kit exam on him. DNA tests confirmed that DNA collected from KB's abdomen swabs and mattress topper was consistent with Mr. Hamilton's semen, and Mr. Hamilton's penile swabs were consistent with the DNA profiles of both KB and Mr. Hamilton.

         [¶4] When it began investigating KB's case, CPD re-opened an earlier case involving charges of sexual assault of JP, the child of a woman Mr. Hamilton dated in 2009. JP testified that Mr. Hamilton sexually assaulted her three different times when she was five or six years old. JP's mother reported the incidents to DFS and CPD, but no charges were filed against Mr. Hamilton at that time.

         [¶5] The State combined KB's and JP's cases, and charged Mr. Hamilton with one count of first-degree sexual assault in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-302(a)(i) and 6-2-306(a)(i), one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-314(a)(iii) and (b), for the incident related to KB; and one count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-314(a)(i) and (c), and two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-315(a)(ii) and (b) for the incidents related to JP.

         [¶6] After a four-day trial, the jury convicted Mr. Hamilton on all five counts. On the two counts related to KB, he was sentenced to a term of not less than 32 years nor more than 36 years, and a term of not less than 10 years nor more than 15 years, to be served concurrently. On the three counts related to JP, he was sentenced to not less than 18 years nor more than 20 years on each count, to be served concurrently and consecutively to the counts related to KB. Mr. Hamilton timely filed his notice of appeal. Additional facts, testimony, and argument will be set forth below, as necessary.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶7] Mr. Hamilton failed to object to the prosecutor's statements during his closing argument at trial. Our review is therefore limited to a search for plain error. Watts v. State, 2016 WY 40, ¶ 6, 370 P.3d 104, 106 (Wyo. 2016). "Normally, we would determine whether each incident of alleged misconduct by the prosecutor caused sufficient prejudice to require a reversal." Id. at ¶ 7, 370 P.3d at 106. Mr. Hamilton, however, argues that it was the cumulative effect of all three instances of alleged prosecutorial misconduct that denied him his right to a fair trial. Our plain error review is therefore: 1) whether the record is clear about each incident alleged to be misconduct; 2) whether each instance of alleged misconduct actually transgressed a clear and unequivocal rule of law; and 3) if two or more instances of alleged misconduct violate clear and unequivocal rules of law, whether the cumulative effect of the misconduct prejudiced Mr. Hamilton to such an extent that his trial was other than fair and impartial. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Was Mr. Hamilton denied his right to a fair trial by the cumulative error of two or more instances of prosecutorial misconduct?

         [¶8] Mr. Hamilton contends that there were three instances of prosecutorial misconduct during the prosecutor's closing argument: 1) the prosecutor defined reasonable doubt for the jury; 2) the prosecutor denigrated the defense; and 3) the prosecutor shifted the burden of proof from the State to the defendant. Prosecutorial misconduct is "[a] prosecutor's improper or illegal act (or failure to act), esp[ecially] involving an attempt to persuade the jury to wrongly convict a defendant or assess an unjustified punishment." Watts, 2016 WY 40, ¶ 8, 370 P.3d at 107 (quoting Craft v. State, 2013 WY 41, ¶ 13, 298 P.3d 825, 829 (Wyo. 2013)). "Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct are reviewed by reference to the entire record and hinge on whether a defendant's case has been so prejudiced as to constitute denial of a fair trial." Talley v. State, 2007 WY 37, ¶ 9, 153 P.3d 256, 260 (Wyo. 2007). Although it was prosecutorial misconduct for the prosecutor to attempt to define reasonable doubt and to suggest that Mr. Hamilton carried any burden of proof, Mr. Hamilton failed to prove cumulative error. Applying our standard of review, we will find that Mr. Hamilton was not prejudiced to such an extent that his trial was anything other than fair and impartial.

         A. Reasonable doubt

         [¶9] Mr. Hamilton argues that the prosecutor attempted to define reasonable doubt to the jury, in violation of the law, when the prosecutor made the following statements during his closing argument:

Before I get to the overwhelming evidence against [Mr. Hamilton] in this case, I want to discuss with you the burden of proof. I want to talk to you about what it is and also what it is not. It is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a burden the State welcomes. We welcome that. We're talking about a man's freedom. We should be held to that burden, and we ask you to hold us to that burden. But it is not proof beyond any possible doubt. You heard a lot of possibilities coming from [defense counsel]. Well, could it have possibly been this, could it have possibly been that. The burden is not proof beyond any possible doubt. The burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. And a reasonable doubt doesn't just come from any lame excuse the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.