Walters v. State

Citation2008 WY 159,197 P.3d 1273
Decision Date31 December 2008
Docket NumberNo. S-08-0037.,S-08-0037.
PartiesKara WALTERS, Petitioner, v. The STATE of Wyoming, Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

Representing Respondent: Bruce A. Salzburg, Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Sessions Cooley.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

BURKE, Justice.

[¶ 1] Petitioner Kara Walters entered a conditional guilty plea to a second offense of driving while under the influence of alcohol. She appealed to the district court, which affirmed the Judgment and Sentence. Ms. Walters petitioned this Court for a Writ of Review, which we granted. We find that Ms. Walters did not enter a valid conditional guilty plea pursuant to Rule 11(a)(2) of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of conviction and reverse for further proceedings.


[¶ 2] Ms. Walters presents the following issues:

1. Was it proper for the trial court to admit Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) evidence in a jury trial without first holding an evidentiary hearing to establish the arresting officer's competence and reliability to testify regarding this evidence?

2. Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-6-105(a), was it proper for the trial court to admit into evidence an Alco-Sensor portable breath test (PBT) result?

3. Was Ms. Walters improperly detained and arrested under Art. 1, § 4 of the Wyoming Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution?

The State rephrases the issues:

1. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the field sobriety evidence.

2. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the Alco-Sensor test results.

3. Whether Petitioner was appropriately detained and arrested.

We, however, find that the following issue resolves this case:

Did Ms. Walters enter a proper conditional guilty plea pursuant to W.R.Cr.P. 11(a)(2)?


[¶ 3] On July 23, 2005, a Wyoming highway patrolman observed a vehicle that did not display a front license plate. After observing that the rear license plate was issued by South Dakota, and being aware that South Dakota requires two license plates to be displayed, the patrolman pursued and stopped the vehicle. Ms. Walters was the driver of the vehicle.

[¶ 4] During the course of the stop, the patrolman noticed the odor of alcohol emanating from both the vehicle in general and Ms. Walters in particular. When questioned, Ms. Walters first denied drinking anything, then admitted to the patrolman that she had consumed one beer. The patrolman administered several field sobriety tests, including a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which Ms. Walters performed poorly. The patrolman next administered a portable breath test that indicated a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.125%. Ms. Walters then admitted to drinking three beers and told the officer that she should not have been driving. The patrolman arrested Ms. Walters. At the jail, the patrolman administered another breath test using the machine at that facility. That test indicated that Ms. Walters had a BAC of 0.14%.

[¶ 5] Ms. Walters filed a number of pretrial motions:

1. Motion for Access to Law Enforcement Investigation Policies;

2. Motion for Access to Expert Witness Information;

3. Demand that State Provide Notice of Intention to Use 404(b) Evidence and Motion to Suppress use of Such Evidence;

4. Motion for Discovery and for Leave to File Further Motions if Discovery Establishes Unknown Issues;

5. Motion to Give Notice of Intent to Use as Evidence the DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Student Manual Published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration;

6. Request for Daubert Hearing and Motion to Suppress use of Field Sobriety Maneuvers;

7. Request of Notice from the State of Wyoming of Its Intent to use Statements of the Defendant and Motion to Suppress such Statements; 8. Motion to Suppress use of Chemical Tests;

9. Motion to Suppress Alco-Censor [sic] Result;

10. Motion for Disclosure of Prosecutors' Information about Prospective Jurors, Plea Deals with Witnesses and Witnesses' Criminal Histories;

11. Motion to Sequester Witnesses;

12. Motion for Discovery of EC/IR Software Information;

13. Motion to Suppress Evidence and Dismiss Case. ...

[¶ 6] The circuit court held a motion hearing on January 3, 2006. At the beginning of the hearing, the court denied the Motion for Discovery of EC/IR Software Information and denied the juror information portion of the Motion for Disclosure of Prosecutors' Information about Prospective Jurors, Plea Deals with Witnesses and Witnesses' Criminal Histories. Ms. Walters withdrew the Motion for Access to Law Enforcement Investigation Policies. In addition, the court established that the State intended to use the portable breath test only to show that Ms. Walters had alcohol in her system, not the precise BAC. The court then addressed the defense motions to suppress evidence. The State presented the testimony of the arresting officer. He testified that he stopped the vehicle because of the lack of a front license plate and described his investigation from the initial stop through Ms. Walters being booked at the jail. Ms. Walters called two witnesses who testified that, contrary to the patrolman's testimony, the vehicle displayed a front license plate. One witness was the owner of the vehicle and a passenger in the vehicle on the night Ms. Walters was arrested. The other witness testified that he arrived on the scene after the patrolman left to take Ms. Walters to jail and photographed the front of the vehicle. The photographs showed the front of the vehicle with a license plate properly displayed.

[¶ 7] Subsequent to the evidentiary hearing, the circuit court issued an Order Denying Motion to Suppress Evidence and Dismiss Case and Order Denying Motion to Suppress Statements of the Defendant. Specifically, the court determined that the testimony of the car owner was not as reliable as that of the patrolman. The court also discounted the second witness's testimony because "he did not check for a license in the back of the vehicle and the photo was taken after the Trooper left the scene."

[¶ 8] Trial was scheduled for February 28, 2006. On that day, but before the trial was to begin, the circuit court held a hearing to consider the defense request for a Daubert hearing regarding the field sobriety tests, specifically the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.1 The court determined that the tests would be admissible at trial without a Daubert hearing. The court also commented upon its earlier ruling regarding the portable breath test results, stating: "They can be introduced. I'm not suppressing them or keeping them out at this time."

[¶ 9] After the court denied the request for a Daubert hearing, Ms. Walters indicated her desire to change her plea. After confirming that Ms. Walters was changing her plea voluntarily and understood that she was giving up certain constitutional rights, the court accepted her plea of guilty. The court then ordered that a substance abuse evaluation be performed and allowed Ms. Walters to be released on bond pending sentencing. At the end of the hearing, the following exchange occurred:

The Court: ... Do you have any questions, Ms. Walters?

The Defendant: No, ma'am.

The Court: All right. Thank you.

[Defense Counsel]: And Mr. [Prosecutor] just wanted to note for the record that we're doing this as a conditional plea. So I'm just bringing that up, so we understand this is conditional.

The Court: All right. Thank you.

[Defense Counsel]: Thank you, Your Honor.

The Court: Court will be in recess.

[¶ 10] Ms. Walters was subsequently sentenced to 127 days imprisonment with 120 days suspended in favor of two years probation, and credit for two days of pretrial confinement. In the Judgment and Sentence, the court stated:

There was [a] plea agreement entered between the parties whereby the District Attorney would consent to Ms. Walter[s] entering a conditional guilty plea under Rule 11(a)(2) of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was fully disclosed and accepted by the Court as required by Rule 11(e)(2) of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure.

[¶ 11] Ms. Walters timely appealed to the district court. She argued on appeal the same issues she now raises before this Court. On January 30, 2008, the district court affirmed the Judgment and Sentence of the circuit court. Ms. Walters next petitioned this Court for a writ of review, which we granted.


[¶ 12] This case involves the proper interpretation of W.R.Cr.P. 11(a)(2), a question of law that we review de novo. Stewart Title Guar. Co. v. Tilden, 2008 WY 46, ¶ 7, 181 P.3d 94, 98 (Wyo.2008).


[¶ 13] The Judgment and Sentence entered in the circuit court characterizes the guilty plea of Ms. Walters as a "conditional guilty plea." Conditional guilty pleas are governed by W.R.Cr.P. 11(a)(2) which states:

Conditional Pleas.—With the approval of the court and the consent of the attorney for the state, a defendant may enter a conditional plea of guilty or nolo contendere, reserving in writing the right, on appeal from the judgment, to seek review of the adverse determination of any specified pretrial motion. A defendant who prevails on appeal shall be allowed to withdraw the plea.

This rule is nearly identical to its federal counterpart. See F.R.Cr.P. 11(a)(2). When this Court construes court rules that are virtually identical to their federal counterparts, relevant federal authority is persuasive. Horn v. District Court, Ninth Judicial Dist., 647 P.2d 1368, 1374 n. 4 (Wyo.1982).

[¶ 14] Rule 11(a)(2) imposes several requirements. The parties must make a reservation of the right...

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