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Wyoming Supreme Court Rules Against Negligence Claim In Cody Traffic Accident Case

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A driver failed to prove that another driver was negligent when the two were involved in an auto accident at a Cody intersection, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court rejected arguments by Nathan Wageman that a jury should have found Destin Harrell negligent in the accident.

According to the ruling, Wageman was driving his car toward what was described as a “complex” T-intersection. Drivers approaching the intersection from one direction have to drive down a steep hill, while drivers approaching from the direction of the stop sign at the intersection have an obstructed view of the road because of shrubbery and “at certain times, blinding sunlight.”

The ruling said Wageman and his wife were driving north on the road and Harrell was at the intersection’s stop sign facing east, waiting to turn left.

“Mr. Harrell proceeded from the stop sign as Mr. Wageman turned and Mr. Harrell’s car struck the driver side of Mr. Wageman’s truck,” the ruling said.

Wageman sued Harrell for damages for injuries he suffered in the accident, alleging Harrell was negligent in the accident.

The jury in the case disagreed, finding Harrell was not negligent.

Wageman said the evidence he presented was sufficient to prove Harrell’s negligence and the jury’s ruling was improper.

But the Supreme Court’s opinion, written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden, said jurors were told that Harrell’s view was obstructed by the sun and were also told that when Wageman started making his turn, his vehicle crossed over Harrell’s lane of travel.

Because jurors were presented with conflicting information, they were not bound to declare Harrell negligent, the opinion said.

“The evidence shows Mr. Harrell carefully approached the intersection, took extra time to twice look left and right, proceeded slowly when he thought it was safe, and only collided with Mr. Wageman because Mr. Wageman had cut sharply into his lane of travel,” the opinion said. “The jury could reasonably conclude from this evidence that Mr. Wageman failed to meet his burden to establish that Mr. Harrell breached his duty of ordinary care. We therefore will not disturbe the jury’s verdict.”

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Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Man Arrested With 74 Pounds Of Pot

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man whose vehicle was found to contain more than 70 pounds of marijuana was unsuccessful in his effort to overturn his conviction on charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance.

Wyoming’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of Dallas Clem Mitchell, disagreeing with his claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction and that a recording of a conversation with his jailed co-defendant should not have been introduced as evidence.

According to the opinion, written by Justice Kate Fox, Mitchell was stopped by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper on Interstate 90 near Sheridan in August 2018 because his car was weaving on the highway.

During the stop, the trooper smelled marijuana and asked Mitchell to step out of the vehicle for a sobriety test, leaving passenger Bret Feser inside.

After Mitchell successfully completed the sobriety test, the trooper said he needed to check the vehicle for marijuana. The opinion said Feser then jumped into the driver’s seat and drove the vehicle away.

The resulting chase, which reached speeds of up to 100 mph, ended in Campbell County  when troopers used a spike strip to flatten the vehicle’s tires. Feser ran from the scene on foot and was arrested several hours later.

A search of the vehicle revealed 74 pounds of marijuana and Mitchell was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance.

During the trial, prosecutors presented a recording of a call between Mitchell, who was free on bond, and Feser, who remained in jail. During the conversation, Mitchell apologized to Feser for taking a route through Wyoming and said he would help pay Feser’s bond. The two also joked about the stop and criticized prosecutors for pursuing charges “for what they felt was a small amount of relatively harmless drug compared to ‘dope,’” the ruling said.

Mitchell also mentioned his criminal history in the recording.

Mitchell questioned the relevancy of the recording and said his statements about his prior legal problems should not have been heard by the jury.

But justices ruled the recordings supported allegations that Mitchell intended to deliver the marijuana and that there was an understanding “between him and Mr. Feser to carry out the crime together,” the opinion said.

Justices also said there was sufficient evidence for the jury in Mitchell’s case to convict him on the charges.

“Mr. Mitchell was in a compact car with two dogs, another adult, and four large suitcases filled with over 74 pounds of marijuana packaged in a form consistent with delivery,” the opinion said. “The marijuana produced a strong odor. Among Mr. Mitchell’s possessions was a marijuana grinder, a stack of money bands … The evidence was sufficient to convict Mr. Mitchell of possession with intent to deliver.”

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Wyoming Supreme Court Halts Jury Trials, Calls For Rescheduling Cases

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A halt has been called to jury trials in the state by the Wyoming Supreme Court because of coronavirus.

Justices, in a Friday order, said the illness has forced the closure of many support offices for the state’s courts and made it difficult to find jurors.

“Recent dramatic increases in Covid-19 cases throughout Wyoming (112% increase in the past 14 days), have resulted in the full or partial shutdown of several courts, public defender offices and county attorney offices,” the order said. “It is difficult or impossible to get jurors.”

The court said jury trials should be stopped until further notice and recommended that reasonable attempts be made to reschedule trials in both criminal and civil cases.

Justices also recommended restrictions on court activities requiring in-person appearances except as needed to handle emergencies, such as hearings needed to protect the constitutional rights of criminal defendants, provide relief from abuse or issue emergency child custody or protection orders.

The Supreme Court said judges could use the telephone and video conferencing options where possible to conduct necessary hearings, such as sentencing hearings and bench trials for misdemeanor charges.

Justices also said local judges should work with their county commissioners to make sure county courthouses remain open to take care of court business required by law or the state’s Constitution.

The court said it would review the order by Jan. 15 to determine whether it should be continued.

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Lawsuit Against Casper Doctor Filed Too Late, Wyoming Supreme Court Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A woman’s lawsuit against a Casper doctor reached a court four days too late for her to pursue a negligence claim against him, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision against Merry Candelaria, finding her lawsuit against Dr. Mahesh Karandikar was filed four days after the statute of limitations expired in her claim against him.

According to the ruling, Karandikar performed seven surgeries on Candelaria’s spine between October of 2013 and March of 2016.

Candelaria stopped seeing Karandikar in March of 2016 and in March of 2018, she filed a claim against him with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel, which dismissed her claim.

Candelaria mailed her lawsuit against Karandikar to state district court in Casper on June 28, 2018. The record showed she tried to file her action four days earlier, but the delivery of the complaint was delayed because the address did not include a suite number for the district court.

Karandikar asked for a summary judgment against Candelaria, arguing she filed her action more than two years after her claim against him surfaced, so the statute of limitations had run its course.

The state district court ruled that to have been filed within the two-year statute of limitations period, Candelaria should have filed her action by June 25, 2018 — four days before the action was filed on June 29.

Justices unanimously upheld the district court’s ruling.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Rules Man’s Parental Rights Improperly Terminated

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man who had not seen his newborn daughter within the first three years of her life was improperly denied a chance to argue against the termination of his parental rights, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Justices unanimously ruled that Cody John Niland should have been given a chance to argue in court that the termination of his parental rights would not be in the best interests of his daughter.

“Mr. Niland has a protected interest in his right to parent … and that interest was affected ‘in an impermissible way,’” the opinion said. “The termination of Mr. Niland’s parental rights before he had the opportunity to … present evidence or to examine, explain or rebut evidence … was a ‘denial of fundamental fairness’ guaranteed by Wyoming law.”

Justices ordered that Niland be allowed to present arguments in the case.

The ruling stems from the efforts of the state Department of Family Services to terminate Niland’s parental rights over his daughter, identified only as NRAE.

According to the opinion, the girl was born in 2016 and both she and her mother tested positive for methamphetamine. The mother was arrested for child endangerment and the child was placed in foster care.

The mother identified Niland as the child’s father and the department tried to find him, the opinion said.

“The department struggled to find Mr. Niland — sometimes he was homeless, other times he was incarcerated,” the opinion said.

Genetic testing in October 2018 showed Niland to be the father and in December 2018, he expressed an interest in having his daughter placed in his custody.

At the same time, rehabilitation efforts for the girl’s mother were unsuccessful, so the DFS sought to have the parental rights of both the mother and Niland terminated so the child could be adopted.

The DFS argued that the legal requirements for termination of parental rights were met including that the child was left in the care of another for at least one year without provision for the child’s support or communication from the absent period. The DFS also argued that the child had been abandoned by her parents.

Niland argued against termination, saying he did not know the girl was his daughter until the genetic testing was completed more than one year after her birth. He also said he had not been given an opportunity to show he could financially support his daughter.

A district court in Laramie County ruled that evidence supported the legal requirements for the termination.

However, under Wyoming law, before the parental rights can be terminated, a finding must also be entered that such a decision would be in the best interests of the child.

The DFS asked the district court for such a determination and the district court granted the request based on evidence submitted earlier and without hearing arguments from Niland. In addition, the decision was made eight days after the DFS’ request, the opinion said, before Niland’s deadline of 20 days to respond to that request.

Justices agreed that while Niland was given an opportunity to argue that the legal requirements for the termination of parental rights were not met, he was not given a chance to argue that the termination of those rights would not be in the child’s best interest.

“Mr. Niland was denied due process when the district court determined the best interests of the child without providing an opportunity for him to be heard,” the ruling said.

Justices ordered that another hearing be held and that Niland be given a chance to to present his case.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Rejects Convicted Killer Gerald Lee Uden’s Appeal

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Supreme Court has dismissed the latest appeal of a man who pleaded guilty to killing his ex-wife and two adopted sons in Fremont County.

The court, reviewing the case of convicted murderer Gerald Lee Uden, said it lacked jurisdiction over a lower court’s decision to dismiss Uden’s request to have his record cleared because of his discovery of new evidence.

Uden pleaded guilty in 2013 to three charges of first-degree murder filed in the 1980 murders of his ex-wife Virginia and adopted sons Reagan and Richard.

Uden told investigators he shot the three and then hid their bodies, first in old gold mines in Fremont County and then by putting them in barrels and then sinking the barrels in Fremont Lake.

At about the same time, Uden’s wife at the time of the murders, Alice Uden, was herself convicted of murdering her third husband in the 1970s. Their story was detailed in the book “Alice and Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story” by true crime author Ron Franscell, a former Wyoming newspaper publisher.

The Udens were incarcerated at the same institution — the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington — and Alice Uden died last year. 

After Alice Uden’s death, Gerald Uden began efforts to exonerate himself.

Uden filed a petition with a state district court seeking to have his conviction dismissed under the Wyoming “Factual Innocence Act.” Under the act, if a person convicted of a crime can offer new factual evidence that proves their innocence, the person can be exonerated.

However, the state district court found that Uden only offered transcripts of his trial and guilty plea, not new evidence that might prove his innocence. As a result, the district court dismissed Uden’s request.

Uden appealed the dismissal to the Supreme Court, but a unanimous court ruled since his request was only dismissed and not denied, it has no jurisdiction over the issue.

The Supreme Court said Uden is free to file another request with the district court. As a result, the dismissal is not a final order that can be appealed to the Supreme Court, Justice Lynne Boomgaarden wrote.

“If Mr. Uden could credibly document the existence of newly discovered evidence that establishes a bona fide issue of his factual innocence, he would be free to file a petition that satisfied all of the (Factual Innocence) Act’s requirements,” she wrote. “Anything short of that, however, would again be subject to dismissal following the court’s initial review.”

In a footnote, Boomgaarden wrote that given Uden’s detailed admissions in court, it might be difficult for him to prove his innocence.

“We agree with the district court that it is difficult to imagine how Mr. Uden could credibly assert a bona fide factual innocence claim given his detailed admissions as to how and why he murdered his ex-wife and sons,” the footnote said.

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