Excessive Sentencing Project - Wyoming

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Wyoming.

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  • Wyoming allows for discretionary parole.
  • Wyoming has discretionary LWOP and JLWOP. Wyo. Stat. § 6-2-101 (2012)
  • Juveniles may be transferred to criminal court at age 13.
State Constitution

Wyo. Const. Art. 1, § 14 (2012)

§ 14. Bail; cruel and unusual punishment.

All persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses when the proof is evident or the presumption great. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor shall cruel or unusual punishment be inflicted.

NOTE: Article 1, Section 14 use of “cruel or unusual punishment” rather than “cruel and unusual punishment” indicates that it is potentially broader than the Eighth Amendment.

Wyo. Const. art. 1, § 15. 

  • § 15. Penal code to be humane.
  • The penal code shall be framed on the humane principles of reformation and prevention. 
    • Note: This provision speaks to the penal code and not to sentencing, and it is not intended to limit the sentencing discretion of judges. Oakley v. State, 715 P.2d 1374, 1379 (Wyo. 1986).
Sentencing Statutes
  • Sentencing Guidelines System – Wyoming does not have sentencing guidelines
  • Habitual Offender Statutes –  Wyo. Stat. § 6-10-201 (2012)
    • § 6-10-201.  "Habitual criminal" defined; penalties.
      • A person is an habitual criminal if:
        • He is convicted of a violent felony; and
        • He has been convicted of a felony on two (2) or more previous charges separately brought and tried which arose out of separate occurrences in this state or elsewhere.
      • An habitual criminal shall be punished by imprisonment for:
        • Not less than ten (10) years nor more than fifty (50) years, if he has two (2) previous convictions;
        • Life, if he has three (3) or more previous convictions.
Case Law

General  

An appellate court will not consider questions not presented or raised below. Apodaca v. State, 571 P.2d 603, 605 (Wyo. 1977).

“Wyoming statutes permit post-conviction relief only for deprivation of constitutional rights in the proceeding which resulted in conviction.” Harlow v. State, 2005 WY 12, P6 (Wyo. 2005) (quoting Whitney v. State, 745 P.2d 902, 903-04 (Wyo. 1987). Constitutional rights are limited to determination of whether defendant was denied the right to counsel, to have witnesses, and to prepare and present his defense. Harlow v. State, 2005 WY 12, P6 (Wyo. 2005) (quoting Whitney v. State, 745 P.2d 902, 903-04 (Wyo. 1987). While it may be true that a sentence which is cruel and unusual violates constitutional rights, this violation did not occur in the proceeding, but occurred after the proceeding was concluded. Id.

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State Constitution & Proportionality 

Article 1, Section 14 prohibits “cruel or unusual punishment,” compared to the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Wyoming Supreme Court has “at least tacitly recognized that under our state constitution we will look at the two words individually.” Bear Cloud v. State, 2012 WY 16, P47 (Wyo. 2012) (overturned on other grounds) (citing Sampsell v. State, 2001 WY 12, ¶¶ 10-11, 17 P.3d 724 PP10-11 (Wyo. 2001); Johnson v. State, 2003 WY 9, ¶ 35 (Wyo. 2003)). Therefore, the Wyoming Constitution potentially provides greater protections from cruel and unusual punishments. Bear Cloud v. State, 2012 WY 16, P47 (Wyo. 2012); But Cf. Hopkinson v. State, 632 P.2d 79, 152 (Wyo. 1981), citing Kennedy v. State, 559 P.2d 1014 (Wyo. 1977):  “This court did not hold that Article I, § 14 of the Wyoming Constitution was any more exacting than the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”).

Wyoming courts rely on the Solem proportionality test for challenges under the Eighth Amendment. The court looks to the following objective criteria: “(i) the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty; (ii) the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction; and (iii) the sentences imposed for commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions.” Suval v. State, 6 P.3d 1272, 1274 (Wyo. 2000). However, the court will not engage in this lengthy analysis under each of the three criteria except in those instances “where the mode of punishment is unusual or where the relative length of sentence to imprisonment is extreme when compared to the gravity of the offense.” Suval v. State, 6 P.3d 1272, 1274 (Wyo. 2000) (quoting Dodge v. State, 951 P.2d 383, 385 (Wyo. 1997)); Oakley v. State, 715 P.2d 1374, 1379 (Wyo. 1986)); See Tilley v. State, 912 P.2d 1140-43 (Wyo. 1996).

In Wyoming, a sentence may be subject to appellate review even though it falls within the statutory range. Suval v. State, 6 P.3d 1272, 1274 (Wyo. 2000) (citing Dodge v. State, 951 P.2d 383, 385 (Wyo. 1997)); Oakley v. State, 715 P.2d 1374 (Wyo. 1986) (citing Wright v. State, Wyo., 670 P.2d 1090, 1091 (1983)). Instead, if the sentence falls within the statutory range, the sentence should be reviewed for abuse of discretion. The defendant must show “an abuse of discretion, procedural conduct prejudicial to him, and circumstances which manifest inherent unfairness and injustice, or conduct which offends the public sense of fair play.” Wright v. State, Wyo., 670 P.2d 1090, 1092 (1983) (quoting Scheikofsky v. State, 636 P.2d 1107, 1112-13 (Wyo. 1981)).

If the length of the sentence is not extreme when compared to the gravity of the offense, the court will instead look to the reasonableness of the sentence by examining the nature of the crime, its circumstances, and the character of the defendant. Tucker v. State, 2010 WY 162, NaN-P50 (Wyo. 2010) (citing Frederick v. State, 2007 WY 27, ¶ 32 (Wyo. 2007).  

A registration requirement is not punishment for purposes of proportionality analysis under Article 1, Section 14. Snyder v. State, 912 P.2d 1127, 1131 (Wyo. 1996). 

In Wyoming, “there is no constitutional right to be paroled prior to expiration of a valid sentence.” Whitney v. State, 745 P.2d 902, 904 (Wyo. 1987) (citing Dorman v. State, Wyo., 665 P.2d 511 (1983)).

A statute which provides for the loss of driver’s license when and offender less that 19 years old is convicted of possession or consumption of alcohol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Article 1, Section 14. Johnson v. State Hearing Exmrs. Office, 838 P.2d 158 (Wyo. 1992).

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The following cases mention Article 1, Section 14 in addition to the Eighth Amendment, but do not provide any significant separate analysis of Section 14:

  • Martin v. State, 720 P.2d 894 (Wyo. 1986)
  • Price v. State, 716 P.2d 324 (Wyo. 1986)

 Leading Court Discussions of Graham and Miller  

Bear Cloud v. State, 2013 WY 18, 294 P.3d 36 (Wyo. February 8, 2013) (Wyoming’s current statute sentencing and parole scheme for persons convicted of first-degree murder violates the Eighth Amendment because it has the practical effect of mandating life in prison without the possibility of parole; the possibility of executive clemency is not equivalent to the possibility of parole;  Wyoming's district courts must consider the factors of youth and the nature of the homicide at an individualized sentencing hearing when determining whether to sentence the juvenile offender to LWOP or to life according to law, the sentencing court shall hold an individualized sentencing hearing that conforms to the dictates of , and must also pronounce a specific period of time which must pass before the juvenile becomes parole eligible. ) 

Sen v. State, 2013 WY 47, 301 P.3d 106 (Wyo. April 24, 2013) (vacate and remand the LWOP sentence to a 15-year-old under Miller.)