SUBLETTE COUNTY – The state responded to former sheriff Stephen R. Haskell’s appeal on his 2017 criminal convictions with a brief filed Friday by telling Wyoming Supreme Court justices they “erred” in the earlier decision that forms much of Haskell’s appeal.
That decision came from an appeal mounted by another former public employee, Albany County Prosecutor Richard C. Bohling. In 2017 and around the time Haskell was on trial in Pinedale, the Supreme Court reversed a jury’s verdicts for Bohling, who was convicted of felony charges centering on his purchases and use of office camera equipment.
Haskell was arrested and charged for ordering new uniforms and other items for the sheriff’s office, after his 2014 election but before he was sworn into office in January 2015. He admitted he changed invoices after the county commissioners and clerk questioned the dates, as Haskell agreed to pay for anything ordered before being sworn in. The prosecution argued that Haskell’s “debt” to the county of more than $11,000 was forgiven. Haskell ordered items only for the sheriff’s department.
Haskell was found guilty one year ago of four charges – ¬obtaining property under false pretenses, wrongfully receiving property and submitting a false claim with intent to defraud. His prison sentences were suspended last August for five years of supervised
probation on each felony count, to run at the same time.
Early on in the trial, presiding Fifth District Judge Steven Cranfill tossed a misdemeanor charge alleging Haskell committed an unauthorized act as a public officer.
The state attorney general’s office also rejects Haskell’s appeal argument about a biased juror who sent a note to Judge Cranfill stating “he had heard enough” after the prosecution rested.
“Haskell declined the opportunity to interview the juror,” the state says. “Did Haskell waive any argument that the district court erred in not dismissing the juror?”
The state’s quotes the justices’ Bohling decision: “(Our) case law is clear that the word ‘obtain” in the statute defining the crime of false pretenses has always been interpreted to mean that the wrongdoer must obtain both title and possession of the victim’s property.
“The state agrees that if this statement is entirely correct, Haskell’s conviction must be reversed as no title to money or property ever passed from the county to Haskell,” it continues.
However, it says the Supreme Court “contradicted itself … and created a paradoxical gap in Wyoming’s theft laws.”
Further, the state informs justices that they ignored previous case law by reinterpreting false pretenses crimes. “… (T)he Court cited several cases that cannot be reconciled with such an interpretation.”
As for Haskell’s argument that he was denied the right to a nonbiased jury, the state argues that the juror’s bias could have favored Haskell’s.
“Haskell seems to suggest that the trial court should have declared a mistrial when the note from the juror came in,” the state responds. “… Because Haskell never suggested a mistrial was necessary, the state asserts that this Court should review the jury misconduct under plain error.”
The “recalcitrant juror” in question was “an older man in some physical distress … (and had been) a little bit uncomfortable where he has to sit for several days,” the state reveals.
“The trial court asked, ‘Do we need to bring him in?’ Both the state and Haskell said no.”
The state “contends that Haskell waived this argument (about the juror’s bias) at the district court level” by declining that opportunity.
The next step in the appeal process will be the March 19 filing of Haskell’s response to the State Attorney General’s Office.
To read the Wyoming Supreme Court’s public docket about this or any case, go to https://www.courts.state.wy.us/ and under “Public Docket” enter a party’s name in a “participant search.”