State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, No. 22495

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtNEELY; BROTHERTON; MILLER; CLECKLEY; CLECKLEY
Decision Date16 December 1994
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia ex rel. R.L., Petitioner v. Honorable Thomas A. BEDELL, Judge of the Circuit Court of Harrison County, and Steven R. Bratke, Court-Appointed Special Prosecuting Attorney for the State of West Virginia, Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 22495

Page 893

452 S.E.2d 893
192 W.Va. 435
STATE of West Virginia ex rel. R.L., Petitioner
v.
Honorable Thomas A. BEDELL, Judge of the Circuit Court of
Harrison County, and Steven R. Bratke,
Court-Appointed Special Prosecuting
Attorney for the State of West
Virginia, Respondents.
No. 22495.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
Submitted Nov. 1, 1994.
Decided Dec. 8, 1994.
Concurring Opinion of
Justice Cleckley Dec. 16, 1994.

Page 894

[192 W.Va. 436]

Syllabus by the Court

1. "By application to the circuit judge, whose duty is to insure access to the grand jury, any person may go to the grand jury to present a complaint to it. W.Va. Const. art. 3, § 17." Syllabus Point 1, State ex rel. Miller v. Smith, 168 W.Va. 745, 285 S.E.2d 500 (1981).

2. In cases where a grand jury returns an indictment based on a citizen's complaint and presentation, the attestation of the prosecuting attorney to the grand jury foreperson's signature is not required and the lack of such attestation, standing alone, is insufficient grounds for dismissal of an otherwise authentic indictment. The attestation requirement of W.Va.Code 62-9-1 [1931] does not apply in cases where the prosecuting attorney did not present the complaint to the grand jury. To the extent that our holding in this case contradicts our holdings in State v. Davis, 178 W.Va. 87, 357 S.E.2d 769 (1987), State v. Huffman, 141 W.Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), State v. DeBoard, 119 W.Va. 396, 194 S.E. 349 (1937), and State v. Burnette, 118 W.Va. 501, 190 S.E. 905 (1937), they are overruled.

Scot S. Dieringer, Clarksburg, for petitioner.

Steven R. Bratke, pro se.

NEELY, Justice:

R.L. seeks to prohibit his further prosecution under an indictment issued by the Harrison County Grand Jury during its May 1993 term because the indictment, although signed by the grand jury foreperson, did not contain the attestation of the Prosecuting Attorney of Harrison County to the signature of the grand jury foreperson as required by W.Va.Code 62-9-1 [1931]. The indictment against R.L. was sought, not by the prosecuting attorney but, by S.D.W. 1 , a private citizen who alleges that approximately seventeen years ago, when she was five years old, R.L. sexually

Page 895

[192 W.Va. 437] assaulted her. 2 Because the proceedings in this matter resulted from a private citizen's presentation to the grand jury and no other irregularities appear, we find the prosecuting attorney's attestation of the grand jury foreperson's signature is not required when the indictment was sought from the grand jury by a private citizen if the indictment is otherwise attested to by the foreperson of the grand jury. To the extent our holding in this case contradicts our holdings in State v. Davis, 178 W.Va. 87, 357 S.E.2d 769 (1987), State v. Huffman, 141 W.Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), State v. DeBoard, 119 W.Va. 396, 194 S.E. 349 (1937), and State v. Burnette, 118 W.Va. 501, 190 S.E. 905 (1937), they are overruled.
I

In 1992, S.D.W. told a boy friend that she had been sexually abused as a child by R.L., the former husband of her now deceased sister. The boy friend told a relative of S.D.W. who, in turn, requested the police investigate the allegations. According to Sergeant Walker, the investigating officer who testified before the grand jury, and S.D.W., the alleged abuse occurred in the Spring/Summer of 1976 during family visits when S.D.W., who was then five years old, was left alone with R.L., her brother-in-law. Allegedly in several separate incidents, R.L. kissed and rubbed S.D.W. on the mouth, neck, chest and stomach. S.D.W. also alleges that on several occasions while both were wearing clothes, R.L. touched her with his penis and pressed himself against her vaginal area.

Except for S.D.W. and R.L., there were no other witnesses. When S.D.W. matured, she told her boy friends about the incidents to explain her aversion to being touched. At the request of the prosecuting attorney's office, S.D.W. went to a therapist who found that S.D.W. exhibits symptoms similar to those of a sexually abused person. S.D.W.'s description of the alleged abuse has remained constant.

Just before the September 1992 grand jury term, Sergeant Walker reported the results of his investigation to the prosecuting attorney's office. Because of the workload of the prosecuting attorney's office, the prosecuting attorney decided that there was insufficient time to study and consider the report and, therefore, he did not present this matter during the September 1992 grand jury term. Before the May 1993 grand jury term, S.D.W., at the prosecuting attorney's request, began seeing a therapist; however, by the May 1993 grand jury term, the prosecuting attorney had not received any information from the therapist. When S.D.W. presented the matter to the May 1993 Grand Jury, the prosecuting attorney maintained that he "has never refused to act" and "that this matter will be presented after we get the information to proceed, which should have already been provided."

Because the prosecuting attorney did not plan to present this matter during the May 1993 grand jury term, S.D.W. appeared before the grand jury and presented her complaint. 3 The grand jury returned an indictment charging R.L. with sexual abuse in the first degree. The indictment was signed by the grand jury foreperson, and on the reverse side thereof, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Harrison County certified that the indictment was "a true copy of the indictment entered in the above-styled action on the 6th day of May, 1993." However, the prosecuting attorney did not attest to grand jury foreperson's signature.

On 7 June 1993, the prosecuting attorney moved to recuse his office from prosecuting this case and requested the appointment of a special prosecutor. On 28 June 1993, the circuit court granted the recusal motion and appointed Steven Bratke as special prosecutor.

Page 896

[192 W.Va. 438] On 12 July 1994, R.L. filed a motion to quash or dismiss the indictment because the indictment lacked the attestation of the prosecuting attorney. After the circuit court on 8 August 1994 denied R.L.'s motion to dismiss the indictment, R.L. petitioned this Court to prohibit further prosecution of the underlying case against him.
II

We have long recognized the right of every person to seek redress through the courts. The W.Va. Constitution, art. 3, § 17 guarantees that "[t]he courts of this State shall be open, and every person, for an injury done to him, in his person, property or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law; and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay." In State ex rel. Skinner v. Dostert, 166 W.Va. 743, 753, 278 S.E.2d 624, 631 (1981), we noted that "[t]he 'spirit of the law' has long been and it has been long held that '[t]he public has rights as well as the accused, and one of the first of these is that of redressing or punishing their wrongs'. Ex parte Santee, 4 Va. 363, 2 Va.Cas. 363 (1823)." Skinner also recognized that "the prosecuting attorney is vested with discretion in the control of criminal causes, which is committed to him for the public good and for the vindication of the public interest. [Citations omitted.]" Skinner, 166 W.Va. at 752, 278 S.E.2d at 631.

Vesting discretion in the prosecuting attorney does not foreclose a citizen's right to seek redress through the courts for personal wrongs. Indeed, "the grand jury must be open to the public for the independent presentation of evidence before it." State ex rel. Miller v. Smith, 168 W.Va. 745, 753, 285 S.E.2d 500, 504 (1981) (prosecuting attorney should not attempt to influence the grand jury by means other than presentation of evidence or giving court supervised instructions). In order to insure the accessibility of the grand jury to citizens, in Syl. pt. 1, Miller, we stated:

By application to the circuit judge, whose duty is to insure access to the grand jury, any person may go to the grand jury to present a complaint to it. W.Va. Const. art. 3, § 17.

See Myers v. Frazier, 173 W.Va. 658, 679, 319 S.E.2d 782, 804 (1984); Powers v. Goodwin, 170 W.Va. 151, 158, 291 S.E.2d 466, 473 (1982); Cogar v. Strickler, 570 F.Supp. 34, 35-36 (S.D.W.Va.1983).

Recently in Harman v. Frye, 188 W.Va. 611, 621, 425 S.E.2d 566, 576 (1992) (citizens must bring their complaints first to the prosecuting attorney or the appropriate law enforcement agency), we reaffirmed our holding in Syl. pt. 1 of Miller and stated that "the grand jury must be open to the public as a matter of constitutional right." In Harman, we ordered the appointment of a special prosecutor in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest in criminal cases involving cross-warrants and thus allowed the prosecuting attorney to fulfill "the duty of prosecuting all crimes, including misdemeanors." Harman, 188 W.Va. at 621, 425 S.E.2d at 576.

In this case, R.L. maintains that the indictment issued by...

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105 practice notes
  • State v. Bowling, No. 11–1674.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 11, 2013
    ...Syllabus point 10, State v. Huffman, 141 W.Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), overruled on other grounds by State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W.Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994).” Syl. pt. 2, State v. Doonan, 220 W.Va. 8, 640 S.E.2d 71 (2006). 5. “ ‘Jury instructions on possible guilty verdicts mus......
  • State v. Rollins, No. 13–0099.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 17, 2014
    ...Syllabus point 10, State v. Huffman, 141 W.Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), overruled on other grounds by State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W.Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994).” Syl. pt. 2, State v. Doonan, 220 W.Va. 8, 640 S.E.2d 71 (2006). 13. “The West Virginia Rules of Evidence and the West V......
  • Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg (In re Estate of Jones), No. 18-0927
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 30, 2020
    ...officer and suborned perjury by prosecuting attorney in presentation of separate matter to grand jury); State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W. Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994) (relating that private citizen presented claim of sexual abuse to grand jury due to prosecuting attorney's lack of pres......
  • State v. Lambert, No. 14-0438
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 17, 2015
    ...Syl. pt. 10, State v. Huffman, 141 W. Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), overruled on other grounds by State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W. Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994). The following principles have been observed regarding the admission of impeachment evidence:A statement that is offered to i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
105 cases
  • State v. Bowling, No. 11–1674.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 11, 2013
    ...Syllabus point 10, State v. Huffman, 141 W.Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), overruled on other grounds by State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W.Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994).” Syl. pt. 2, State v. Doonan, 220 W.Va. 8, 640 S.E.2d 71 (2006). 5. “ ‘Jury instructions on possible guilty verdicts mus......
  • State v. Rollins, No. 13–0099.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 17, 2014
    ...Syllabus point 10, State v. Huffman, 141 W.Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), overruled on other grounds by State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W.Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994).” Syl. pt. 2, State v. Doonan, 220 W.Va. 8, 640 S.E.2d 71 (2006). 13. “The West Virginia Rules of Evidence and the West V......
  • Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg (In re Estate of Jones), No. 18-0927
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 30, 2020
    ...officer and suborned perjury by prosecuting attorney in presentation of separate matter to grand jury); State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W. Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994) (relating that private citizen presented claim of sexual abuse to grand jury due to prosecuting attorney's lack of pres......
  • State v. Lambert, No. 14-0438
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 17, 2015
    ...Syl. pt. 10, State v. Huffman, 141 W. Va. 55, 87 S.E.2d 541 (1955), overruled on other grounds by State ex rel. R.L. v. Bedell, 192 W. Va. 435, 452 S.E.2d 893 (1994). The following principles have been observed regarding the admission of impeachment evidence:A statement that is offered to i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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