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Hopkins v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

July 23, 2019

MATTHEW VERNON HOPKINS, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Appeal from the District Court of Park County The Honorable David B. Park, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Office of the Public Defender: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Kirk A. Morgan, Chief Appellate Counsel; Robin S. Cooper, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Ms. Cooper.

          Representing Appellee: Bridget L. Hill, Wyoming Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Deputy Attorney General; Shawnna M. Lamb, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Lamb.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          BOOMGAARDEN, JUSTICE

         [¶1] On March 14, 2017, Appellant Matthew Vernon Hopkins, a psychiatric addiction specialist, huffed from a can of Dust-Off, got behind the wheel of his car, and lost consciousness while driving to his office. He veered into oncoming traffic, hit another vehicle head on, and injured the other driver. The State filed criminal charges and a jury convicted Mr. Hopkins of aggravated assault and battery, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, and unlawful use of a toxic substance. On appeal, Mr. Hopkins challenges his conviction for aggravated assault and battery. Finding no error, we affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] We restate and reorder the three issues Mr. Hopkins raises on appeal:

I. Does the "knowingly" element of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(ii) require the State to prove that Mr. Hopkins purposefully hit the victim's vehicle?
II. Does sufficient evidence support Mr. Hopkins' conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon?
III. Was Mr. Hopkins prevented from presenting a complete defense?

         FACTS

         [¶3] The facts established at trial were largely uncontested. Mr. Hopkins owned a practice in Cody, Wyoming, where he specialized in adolescent and addiction psychiatry. Mr. Hopkins personally suffers from addiction-he is an alcoholic and abuses Adderall and air dusters. His medical license was suspended in 2003 and 2010 due to his addictions.[1]Mr. Hopkins maintained sobriety for periods of time, but relapsed prior to the incident due to severe financial problems. Mr. Hopkins did not seek treatment because he feared he would lose his medical license permanently. Instead, he used air dusters (inhalants) to combat "the shakes" and anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal. He admitted air dusters made him light-headed, but denied that he had ever passed out from huffing prior to the incident. Mr. Hopkins abused the air dusters even though he read the warning label on the can and, as a psychiatrist, he knew the risks (including brain damage) of using air dusters and the effects of inhalants on the brain.

         [¶4] On the morning of the incident, Mr. Hopkins used some "duster" shortly after he woke up. An hour later, he drove his son to school and headed to work. Mr. Hopkins began getting the shakes and stopped at his hotel room (where he lived temporarily) to get another can of Dust-Off. After he retrieved a can, Mr. Hopkins proceeded to drive himself to his office. He "possibly" used the air duster again while driving and passed out. His vehicle veered into oncoming traffic and he hit another vehicle head on.[2] The other driver sustained injuries and required neck surgery. A forensic toxicologist found inhalants in Mr. Hopkins' blood.

         [¶5] In closing argument, defense counsel conceded Mr. Hopkins drove under the influence of a controlled substance and unlawfully used a toxic substance, but argued that the State failed to meet its burden on the "knowingly" element of the aggravated assault and battery charge. The jury convicted Mr. Hopkins of all three charges. This timely appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         [¶6] Mr. Hopkins' issues on appeal all stem from his contention that he lacked the requisite mens rea for aggravated assault and battery under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(ii) (LexisNexis 2017). During trial, Mr. Hopkins asserted that even though subsection (a)(ii) is a general intent crime, it nonetheless requires some purposeful intent and foreseeability. He argued that the State had to prove that he purposefully hit the victim's vehicle-not that he knowingly drove while under the influence of an inhalant. Mr. Hopkins reasoned that he could not have hit the victim's vehicle on purpose because he was passed out when he veered into oncoming traffic and, further, that the incident was not foreseeable because he had never before lost consciousness while using inhalants. The district court disagreed with Mr. Hopkins' position because it was an improper statement of the law. Consequently, the court did not allow Mr. Hopkins to argue his theory to the jury. Mr. Hopkins claims the district court erred in its ruling, which prevented him from providing a complete defense and resulted in a conviction based on insufficient evidence.

         I. Does the "knowingly" element of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(ii) require the State to prove that Mr. Hopkins purposefully hit the victim's vehicle?

         [¶7] We review a district court's legal determinations de novo. Mraz v. State, 2016 WY 85, ΒΆ 29, 378 P.3d 280, 288 (Wyo. 2016) (citation omitted). To the extent Mr. Hopkins raises a statutory interpretation issue, our review is also de ...


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