Williams v. State

Decision Date31 December 2002
Docket NumberNo. 01-123.,01-123.
PartiesBetty Jean WILLIAMS, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Kenneth M. Koski, State Public Defender; Donna Domonkos, Appellate Counsel; Diane Courselle, Director, Defender Aid Program; and Holly Magi Barringham, Student Intern., Representing Appellant. Argument by Ms. Barringham.

Hoke MacMillan, Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Robin Sessions Cooley, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Representing Appellee. Argument by Ms. Cooley.

Before HILL, C.J., and GOLDEN, LEHMAN,1 KITE, and VOIGT, JJ.

LEHMAN, Justice.

[¶ 1] After trial, a jury convicted appellant, Betty Jean Williams (appellant), of five counts of forgery. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] Appellant sets forth three issues on appeal as follows:

I. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in allowing the State's expert, Richard Crivello, to testify regarding his opinions based on handwriting analysis when the trial court failed to make the requisite findings of reliability as required by Daubert [v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)] and Kumho Tire [v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999)] and adopted by the Wyoming Supreme Court?
II. Was the evidence presented to the jury sufficient to sustain a conviction for forgery?
III. Did the trial court err in failing to accept defendant's guilty plea when there was a clear factual basis for doing so?

Appellee State of Wyoming essentially agrees with those issues presented by appellant.

FACTS

[¶ 3] During a ride in a taxi, the driver— who became the victim in this case—indicated that he needed to have some work performed at his home, including some painting. Appellant indicated that she would be interested in working for the victim. She testified she was to be paid hourly for her painting services up to approximately $400.00 and about $200.00 for supplies. The victim testified that appellant began work for him, however, they had not reached an agreement. In any event, appellant began providing painting services to the victim a day or so later.

[¶ 4] Toward the end of March of 2000, the victim went to New Mexico for a week. Upon return from this trip, victim reconciled his bank statement and noticed he had not written one of the checks drawn on his account. Later, he realized that four additional checks had also been forged. Ultimately, appellant was charged and convicted of forging the five subject checks written on the victim's account.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 5] The standard of review when faced with matters pertaining to the admission of testimony of expert witnesses was established in the case of Bunting v. Jamieson, 984 P.2d 467 (Wyo.1999) wherein this court adopted the reasoning used by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). The standard has been further clarified as follows:

The trial court must have the same kind of latitude in deciding how to test an expert's reliability, and to decide whether or when special briefing or other proceedings are needed to investigate reliability, as it enjoys when it decides whether or not that expert's relevant testimony is reliable. Our opinion in Joiner [General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997)] makes clear that a court of appeals is to apply an abuse-of-discretion standard when it "review[s] a trial court's decision to admit or exclude expert testimony." 522 U.S. at 138-39,118 S.Ct. 512,139 L.Ed.2d 508. That standard applies as much to the trial court's decisions about how to determine reliability as to its ultimate conclusion.... Thus, whether Daubert's specific factors are, or are not, reasonable measures of reliability in a particular case is a matter that the law grants the trial judge broad latitude to determine.

Kumho Tire Company, Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 1176, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999). "In determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion, the ultimate issue is whether or not the court could reasonably conclude as it did." Campbell v. Studer, 970 P.2d 389, 392 (Wyo.1998).

"`[D]ecisions of the trial court with respect to the admissibility of evidence are entitled to considerable deference and, as long as there exists a legitimate basis for the trial court's ruling, that ruling will not be reversed on appeal.'" It is also well established that a district court judgment may be affirmed on any proper legal grounds supported by the record. However, where the law imposes a duty on the district court to make findings on the record, we will not speculate as to the reasons for the decision.

Bunting, 984 P.2d at 470 (quoting English v. State, 982 P.2d 139, 143 (Wyo.1999)).

A qualified expert witness may testify about scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge if such testimony will help the jury understand the case. W.R.E. 702. This court has adopted the federal Daubert model imposing gatekeeping responsibilities on trial courts deciding whether scientific or technical expert testimony is admissible. See Bunting v. Jamieson, 984 P.2d 467, 471 (Wyo.1999) (citing Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592-93, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 2796, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)). In doing so, however, we did not "abandon our own precedent regarding the admissibility of expert testimony." Bunting, at 471. Under the Daubert model, the trial court must first determine whether the expert's methodology is reliable; then the court must determine whether the proposed testimony "fits" the facts of the particular case. Id. A district court's decision to admit or reject expert testimony is a decision solely within that court's discretion. Seivewright v. State, 7 P.3d 24, 29 (Wyo.2000); Springfield v. State, 860 P.2d 435, 438 (Wyo.1993); Betzle v. State, 847 P.2d 1010, 1022 (Wyo.1993).

Chapman v. State, 2001 WY 25, ¶ 8, 18 P.3d 1164, ¶ 8 (Wyo.2001).

[¶ 6] The standard of review for sufficiency of the evidence issues is also well established. We assess whether all the evidence presented is adequate to form the basis for an inference of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to be drawn by a finder of fact when that evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State. We do not consider the evidence presented by the unsuccessful party which conflicts with the successful party's evidence, and afford every favorable inference to the successful party's evidence which may be reasonably and fairly drawn from that evidence. Even though it is possible to draw other inferences from the evidence presented, the jury has the responsibility to resolve conflicts in the evidence. We will not substitute our judgment for that of the jury when we are applying this rule; our only duty is to determine whether a quorum of reasonable and rational individuals would, or even could, have come to the same result as the jury actually did. Black v. State, 2002 WY 72, ¶ 4, 46 P.3d 298, ¶ 4 (Wyo.2002) (citing Vanvorst v. State, 1 P.3d 1223, 1228 (Wyo.2000); Harris v. State, 933 P.2d 1114, 1123 (Wyo.1997); and Blake v. State, 933 P.2d 474, 480 (Wyo.1997)).

DISCUSSION
Admissibility of Expert Testimony

[¶ 7] Appellant complains that the district court abused its discretion in allowing the handwriting expert proffered by the State to testify regarding those opinions he formed based on his handwriting analysis. According to appellant, the district court failed to follow the clearly established guidelines for exercising its gatekeeping role as detailed in the cases of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993) and Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999) and thus allowed expert testimony to be presented to the jury that was not demonstrably reliable. Specifically, appellant argues that while she agrees that handwriting analysis and expertise in that area are "not scientific," this did not excuse the court from its gatekeeping responsibilities. Thus, appellant argues that the district court erred because it failed to substantively address any of the required factors concerning the reliability of the testimony of the handwriting expert. In response, the State claims that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the handwriting expert to testify, as it appropriately allowed the parties to voir dire the expert and made a sufficiently detailed ruling on the record as to the reliability of such anticipated testimony.

[¶ 8] This court first adopted the reasoning used by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert, and later clarified in the case of Kumho Tire Company, in its opinion in Bunting v. Jamieson, 984 P.2d 467. Under the Daubert model, the trial court must first determine whether the expert's methodology is reliable; then the court must determine whether the proposed testimony "fits" the facts of the particular case. See also Chapman, 2001 WY 25, ¶ 8,

18 P.3d 1164. As pointed out by appellant, Bunting, at 472, reiterated four non-exclusive factors utilized in Daubert for guiding a trial court in its inquiry into the reliability of proffered expert testimony:

1) Whether the theory or technique in question can be and has been tested;
2) Whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication;
3) The known or potential rate of error for the utilized theory or technique along with the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the applicable process; and
4) The degree of acceptance within the relevant scientific community.

Id. at 472. Bunting also discussed additional factors that may be utilized by a trial court in fulfilling its gatekeeping function including:

1) The experience and specialized expertise of the proffered expert;
...

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