The sentence of a woman convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide and driving under the influence in a fatal accident near Pinedale in 2021 was overturned Monday by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Justices agreed the judge who handed down the 15- to 20-year sentence for Jade Jewkes improperly took into consideration her refusal to speak to investigating officers in the case and should not have applied what he called “community expectations” in handing down the sentence.
Under the Constitution, neither factor should have figured into Jewkes’ sentence, said the opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray.
“We cannot know what Ms. Jewkes’ sentence would have been had the district court not incorporated constitutionally prohibited factors into its sentencing decision,” it said. “The application of not one, but two, constitutionally prohibited aggravating factors in sentencing undermines the fairness and integrity of judicial proceedings and is plain error.”
According to the ruling, Jewkes pleaded guilty to both the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide and driving under the influence after the car she was driving crossed the center line on U.S. Highway 191 and collided head-on with a pickup truck driven by Shane Deal.
Deal died in the New Year’s Day accident. An investigation revealed that Jewkes had a blood-alcohol content of 0.22% at the time of the accident.
During sentencing, Judge Marvin Tyler commented on the fact that Jewkes refused to speak to the Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers who first contacted her after the crash and refused to take a breathalyzer test. The ruling also said Tyler mentioned that Jewkes refused to answer questions from a trooper who contacted her at the hospital where she was treated for her injuries.
But Jewkes argued she was “punished” for exercising her constitutional right to remain silent.
Justices agreed, noting that a person’s cooperation with authorities is an appropriate factor take into consideration in sentencing.
“Conversely, it is fundamental that an individual’s exercise of a constitutional right cannot be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing,” the opinion said. “The district court sentenced Ms. Jewkes in part because she ‘refused to answer questions’ on the scene and later at the hospital, effectively punishing Ms. Jewkes for exercising her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.”
Tyler also said that as a judge who has been assigned to criminal cases in a number of counties, he has found that different communities have different expectations of what kind of sentence should be handed down in criminal matters.
“And so I try to consider that as a separate factor and consider where I am and what the citizens of our jurisdiction where this crime is when I’m doing the sentencing expects me to do,” Tyler said during sentencing.
Justices found that the judge had no documentation on which to base his decisions for “community expectations,” so Jewkes’ rights to due process of the law were violated.
“The district court relied on its unsupported view of what the community expects in sentencing Ms. Jewkes,” the opinion said. “We find that the district court’s sentence, based at least in part on its subjective view of community expectations, violated Ms. Jewkes’ right to due process.”
Justices, in sending the case back to state district court for a new sentencing hearing, said there is no doubt the two errors combined created prejudice in Jewkes’ sentencing.