from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable
Steven K. Sharpe, Judge
Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender:
Diane M. Lozano, Wyoming State Public Defender; Kirk A.
Morgan, Chief Appellate Counsel; Professor Lauren McLane,
Faculty Director; G. Bryce Hamilton, Student Intern; and
Emily Williams, Student Intern, of the Defender Aid Clinic,
University of Wyoming, College of Law. Argument by Ms.
Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney
General; Christyne M. Martens, Deputy Attorney General;
Katherine A. Adams, [*] Senior Assistant Attorney General;
Caitlin M. Kurnath, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by
DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.
A jury found Melanie Sorensen guilty of possession of
methamphetamine, a controlled substance (third or subsequent
offense). At trial, the district court advised the jury they
might want to wear gloves before examining the proffered
evidence of the baggie containing the methamphetamine. Ms.
Sorensen appeals from the jury's verdict claiming the
district court's remarks on the evidence were error per
se or in the alternative plain error, and that there was
insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict. We affirm.
the district court's comments on the evidence constitute
either error per se or in the alternative plain error?
the evidence sufficient to establish the
"knowledge" element of the crime beyond a
On October 15, 2017, dispatch sent Deputy Mark Yocum to a
residence in Laramie County after receiving a 911 hang-up
call. He arrived at the address at about four in the
afternoon and found Ms. Sorensen in a dispute with another
resident. While at the residence, Deputy Yocum learned Ms.
Sorensen had an outstanding arrest warrant from Carbon County
and placed her under arrest. During a cursory search for
weapons, Deputy Yocum asked Ms. Sorensen about a tassel
hanging off her belt line. Ms. Sorensen explained it was part
of her belt. Nothing was said about the pants she wore.
Deputy Yocum then delivered Ms. Sorensen to the jail's
Ms. Sorensen had admitted to using marijuana that day.
Consequently, Sergeant Jennifer Stephens conducted a strip
search before booking. Sergeant Stephens told Ms. Sorensen to
disclose possession of any contraband. Although Ms. Sorensen
said she had no contraband, she appeared to be looking for
something while she removed her clothing. When Sergeant
Stephens asked her if she was looking for something, Ms.
Sorensen replied she thought she had twenty dollars
Sergeant Stephens found a small baggie in the front coin
pocket of Ms. Sorensen's jeans. Ms. Sorensen immediately
claimed neither the jeans nor the baggie were hers. Sergeant
Stephens delivered the baggie to Deputy Yocum for further
processing, including analysis by the Wyoming State Crime
Laboratory (Crime Lab). The Crime Lab report identified the
substance in the baggie as methamphetamine.
At trial, defense counsel outlined the defendant's theory
of the case in the opening statement:
The issue is not whether or not there was methamphetamine and
whether or not it was on her person. The issue is about
whether or not [Ms. Sorensen] was knowingly in possession of
it. As the State already alluded, the baggy [sic] with the
methamphetamine was found in the right front coin pocket of a
pair of jeans. That little pocket, you can maybe get one or
two fingers in when you put fingers in there. . . .
Miss Sorensen was living in a house with a whole bunch of
people that would come and go. . . . [S]he [will] say that
those weren't her jeans, that she didn't know that
there was meth in the jeans. That's all there is to it.
It is not about whether or not there was drugs, not about
whether or not it was on her person. It was about whether or
not she knew it was there, whether she knew she had it in her
possession when she was booked into the jail. That's it.
Deputy Yocum, the State's first witness, detailed the
circumstances and events surrounding Ms. Sorensen's
arrest, including his observation that the only other female
present in the house was smaller than Ms. Sorensen. He
testified that after he received the baggie from Sergeant
Stephens, he sent it to the Crime Lab. The prosecution had
Deputy Yocum review the Crime Lab report and then offered it
into evidence. It was received without objection and
exhibited to the jury. The prosecution then introduced the
After Deputy Yocum identified the baggie found in Ms.
Sorensen's pocket, the prosecution requested a sidebar.
The prosecutor asked the judge if there was a problem passing
the evidence to the jury in the same manner as the report.
The judge stated the jurors may have a problem because they
may want gloves to handle the evidence. The judge suggested
the prosecutor move for admission and then "just hold it
and parade [the baggie] up and down before the jury as a way
to properly publish it."
The baggie was admitted without objection. Prior to
publishing this evidence, the court addressed the jury:
Ladies and gentlemen, I would tell you that I usually
don't feel comfortable having jurors actually handle a
substance like methamphetamine without any gloves. So you
will have an opportunity in this case to inspect that in more
detail if you would like during deliberations.
What we will probably do if you wish to do that is have you
come into the courtroom and have you put on gloves if you
want to do that during your deliberations.
defense raised no objection to the trial judge's
The prosecution also called Douglas Kelly, a forensic latent
fingerprint expert, who testified Ms. Sorensen's
fingerprints were not found on the baggie. Following Mr.
Kelly's testimony and while the jury was out of the
courtroom, the trial judge noted the defense did not object
to the chain of custody and the contents of the lab reports.
Defense counsel responded, "Correct, Your Honor. And
prior to starting the case [the prosecutor] and I did discuss
the case, that we were not going to challenge chain of
custody. We were going to stipulate to it as well as the
contents of the report [sic] were going ...