State v. Tyler G., No. 14-0937

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE DAVIS delivered the Opinion of the Court.
Decision Date07 October 2015
PartiesSTATE OF WEST VIRGINIA, Plaintiff Below, Respondent v. TYLER G., Defendant Below, Petitioner
Docket NumberNo. 14-0937

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
TYLER G., Defendant Below, Petitioner

No. 14-0937


September 2015 Term
Submitted: September 23, 2015
October 7, 2015

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Hancock County
Honorable Martin J. Gaughan, Judge
Criminal Action No. 13-F-44


Christopher Alan Scheetz
Follansbee, West Virginia
Attorney for Petitioner

Patrick Morrisey
Attorney General
Shannon Frederick Kiser
Assistant Attorney General
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorneys for Respondent

JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

JUSTICE KETCHUM dissents and reserves the right to file a dissenting opinion.

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1. "When reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, an appellate court should construe all facts in the light most favorable to the State, as it was the prevailing party below. Because of the highly fact-specific nature of a motion to suppress, particular deference is given to the findings of the circuit court because it had the opportunity to observe the witnesses and to hear testimony on the issues. Therefore, the circuit court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error." Syllabus point 1, State v. Lacy, 196 W. Va. 104, 468 S.E.2d 719 (1996).

2. "The State must prove, at least by a preponderance of the evidence, that confessions or statements of an accused which amount to admissions of part or all of an offense were voluntary before such may be admitted into the evidence of a criminal case." Syllabus point 5, State v. Starr, 158 W. Va. 905, 216 S.E.2d 242 (1975).

3. "A criminal defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction takes on a heavy burden. An appellate court must review all the evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must credit all inferences and credibility assessments that the jury might have drawn in favor of the prosecution. The evidence need not be inconsistent with every conclusion save that

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of guilt so long as the jury can find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Credibility determinations are for a jury and not an appellate court. Finally, a jury verdict should be set aside only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To the extent that our prior cases are inconsistent, they are expressly overruled." Syllabus point 3, State v. Guthrie, 194 W. Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995).

4. "W. Va. Code, 49-5-17 . . . [, now W. Va. Code § 49-5-103 (2015) (Supp. 2015),] does not prohibit the use of juvenile law enforcement records against a defendant in a criminal case as rebuttal or impeachment evidence." Syllabus point 2, State v. Rygh, 206 W. Va. 295, 524 S.E.2d 447 (1999).

5. It is well-settled that any reference to a criminal defendant's offer or refusal to take a polygraph examination, and the results of a polygraph examination, are inadmissible. Likewise, evidence that a defendant in a criminal case took a polygraph examination also is inadmissible.

6. Although polygraph-related evidence has been deemed inadmissible in this State, the improper admission of such evidence does not automatically warrant a new trial. Rather, improperly admitted evidence involving a polygraph examination is subject to

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a harmless error analysis.

7. "Where the record of a criminal trial shows that the cumulative effect of numerous errors committed during the trial prevented the defendant from receiving a fair trial, his conviction should be set aside, even though any one of such errors standing alone would be harmless error." Syllabus point 5, State v. Smith, 156 W. Va. 385, 193 S.E.2d 550 (1972).

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Davis, Justice:

Petitioner, Tyler G.,1 appeals from an order of the Circuit Court of Hancock County that sentenced him to prison, after a jury convicted him of three sexual offenses against an infant. In this appeal, Petitioner has assigned error to the following: (1) failure to suppress statements made to police, (2) insufficiency of evidence of guilt, (3) improper use of information from juvenile record, (4) mentioning of polygraph during trial, (5) prejudicial effect of cumulative errors, and (6) ineffective assistance of counsel. After a careful review of the briefs submitted by the parties, the record submitted for appeal, the oral arguments presented to this Court, and the applicable case law, we affirm.


The record in this case indicates that the Petitioner began dating A.M. in May of 2012. A.M. was approximately twenty years old at the time and was living with her parents in Hancock County. A.M. also had an infant daughter less than two years old, L.S., the victim in this case. Shortly after A.M. began her relationship with the Petitioner, she

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contracted the sexually transmitted disease known as HPV (human papillomavirus). A.M. believed that she contracted the disease from the Petitioner because he was the only person with whom she was intimate at that time. Consequently, A.M. ended her relationship with Petitioner.

A.M. resumed her relationship with the Petitioner after about a month of separation. After the relationship resumed, it appears that A.M. would frequently stay at the Petitioner's home,2 and Petitioner would on occasion stay with A.M. at her parents' home. On December 10, 2012, A.M.'s father was admitted to a hospital for back surgery.3 A.M. invited Petitioner to spend the night at her parents' home so that she would not be alone with her baby, L.S. The Petitioner agreed to come over and spend the night with A.M. When they went to bed L.S. was placed between A.M. and Petitioner.4 The next morning, December 11, the Petitioner got up and left the house. The Petitioner left a note saying he had to go to a GED class.5 A.M. spoke with the Petitioner later that day by phone. During the phone conversation the Petitioner stated "that he accidentally bumped [L.S.]" A.M. did not know

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what was meant by the remark.

On December 25, 2012, A.M. took L.S. to a local hospital because of an ear infection and an apparent diaper rash in her anal area that would not clear up. While at the hospital, A.M. was told that the diaper rash appeared to be hemorrhoids, but that she should take L.S. to a pediatrician. A.M. took L.S. to a pediatrician. The pediatrician informed A.M. that the bumps around L.S.'s anal area appeared to be genital warts and that she should take the child to a gynecologist. A.M. took the child to a gynecologist. The gynecologist determined that L.S. did not have a diaper rash. Instead, L.S. was diagnosed with severe HPV. A.M. was told that surgery was necessary to remove the warts. A.M. eventually took L.S. to Weirton Medical Center on February 8, 2013, to have the genital warts removed.

While A.M. was at the hospital with L.S., hospital officials made a child abuse report to the Department of Health and Human Resources ("DHHR") and the local police. Several police officers and a DHHR investigator came to the hospital and met with A.M. and the doctor who removed the genital warts from L.S. The police and the DHHR investigator were informed that the Petitioner and A.M.'s father were the only two males that were around L.S. They also were informed by the doctor that the genital warts were around the baby's anal area and were actually inside her anal cavity. This information prompted a formal child abuse and criminal investigation.

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The police left the hospital and went to the Petitioner's home to interview him. The Petitioner agreed to accompany the police to the local police station for the interview. During the interview, the Petitioner stated that when he stayed the night at A.M.'s home on December 10, 2012, he "accidentally touched" L.S., and that he was "ashamed, embarrassed, upset that he did it." After the police concluded their questioning of the Petitioner, he left the police station and went home.

On the morning of February 11, 2013, the Petitioner's mother dropped him off at the police station. It appears that the Petitioner had been asked to come to the police station to take a polygraph examination. The polygraph examination was administered, to the Petitioner by a state police officer. After the polygraph was administered, the Petitioner was informed that some of his answers showed inconsistencies. Consequently, the Petitioner was asked to provide a post-polygraph interview. The Petitioner agreed to provide the interview. During the initial part of the interview, the Petitioner denied having sexual contact with L.S. However, during subsequent questioning by other police officers, the Petitioner stated it was possible that he could have had sexual contact with L.S., but he could not remember. The Petitioner went on to describe the following:

There was an event that he woke up during the night and his erect penis was exposed from his underwear and he was laying against the child, which was between him and the child's mother at the time in the bed. And her clothes, at least the bottom half, was off of her and he was laying up against the child's butt.

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