By Daniel Bendtsen, Laramie Boomerang
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — After what the Laramie Police Department described as a “lengthy and intensive investigation,” a 24-year-old Laramie man was arrested for the killing of a woman in March 2018.
Artem Day has been charged with second-degree murder, a felony that carries a minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. If convicted, Day could be sentenced to up to life in prison.
He’s also been charged with manslaughter and sexual battery, LPD announced in a Friday afternoon press release. The latter charge led court clerks to refuse the Laramie Boomerang access to court documents at the direction of the judge.
According to an LPD press release, Day killed the victim March 11 or March 12.
Bond has not been set in the case, and Day is currently in custody at the county jail.
If Day were convicted of manslaughter, but not murder, he could still face up to 20 years imprisonment.
Details in the case remain sparse, and LPD declined to confirm the victim’s name.
While the Albany County Attorney’s Office filed charges by Friday, Albany County Circuit Court Judge Robert Castor told his clerks not to release documents in the case because of the sexual battery charge, Circuit Court Clerk Jennifer Beeston told the Laramie Boomerang.
Beeston said that, because the murder charge was filed with the sexual battery charge, it wouldn’t be possible to release any documents in the case without violating state law protecting the identity of person charged with a sex crime. To stay compliant with state law, Beeston discussed the issue without explicitly acknowledging Day was charged with sexual battery.
The case illustrates a gap in Wyoming’s law on how courts should provide access to sexual battery cases.
In 2014, the Wyoming Supreme Court said “with regard to the judicial documents, to comply with the statute without running afoul of the constitutional right of access to information, circuit courts should keep a redacted case file and docket sheet available to the public in sexual assault cases.”
“Attorneys filing documents in the case should provide the clerk’s office with redacted and unredacted versions of each filing to ensure confidentiality as required by the statute,” the court ruled.
However, when the Board of Judicial Policy and Administration codified that ruling into a court rule, it neglected to account for the fact that sexual battery is a misdemeanor and only instructed prosecutors to file redacted court records in felony cases.
Beeston said prosecutors did not file a redacted version of Day’s charges.
The crime of sexual battery is a misdemeanor, though it’s listed alongside eight felonies in Wyoming’s statutes under Article 3 of Wyoming’s “offenses against the person.”
Sexual battery is the only misdemeanor enumerated in Article 3.
Section 319 of that article also states a defendant charged with a crime listed in Article 3 should not have his name released until cases are bound over to District Court “except as authorized by the judge with jurisdiction over the criminal charges.”
LPD spokeswoman Gwen Smith said she wasn’t sure if Judge Robert Castor had approved the release of Day’s name in regard to the sexual battery charge.
“The County Attorney, Peggy Trent, assisted with and approved the release and authorized the release of the name,” Smith said in an email. “I don’t know if she spoke with Judge Castor or not.”
However, Section 319’s application to sexual battery is dubious.
Because Section 319 applies to all offenses under Article 3, the section’s language appears to apply itself to sexual battery on one hand. However, Section 319 also appears to apply to cases that would be adjudicated in District Court, which doesn’t inherently apply to sexual battery, a misdemeanor.
Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney who specializes in Wyoming’s public records law, said “common sense” indicates Section 319 doesn’t apply to sexual battery, since that section refers to offenses that are adjudicated in District Court.
If Section 319 doesn’t apply to sexual battery, it would mean LPD needed no approval from Castor to release Day’s name. But it would also mean Castor would have no grounds to refused access to court records.
Until 2014, Wyoming circuit courts commonly refused to provide any sexual assault documents to the public, arguing that to do so would violate Section 319.
The Casper Star-Tribune filed a lawsuit to challenge that practice, and the Wyoming Supreme Court sided with the newspaper, determining sexual assault cases must remain open to the public.
The lawsuit that led to 2015’s redaction rule involved a felony offense. The Wyoming Supreme Court’s opinion didn’t specifically address sexual battery, but it’s opinion appears to apply to all Article 3 offenses.
“As a general matter, then, both proceedings and judicial documents in sexual assault proceedings must remain open, with the foregoing limits to ensure compliance with state statute,” the Supreme Court said. “If the circuit court believes there is a compelling interest in further limiting the information available to the public, it must first hold a hearing at which members of the public have been given the opportunity to refute any allegations that the case must be closed.”
Moats represented the Casper Star-Tribune when the Wyoming Supreme Court instituted stricter rules about access to records of sex crime cases.
While Moats opted not to challenge the constitutionality of Section 319, he said he feels the newspaper would’ve prevailed if had challenged the law.
“I know that if you really pressed it, that would be unconstitutional,” he said.
While the Wyoming Supreme Court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of Section 319, the justices hinted it might be unconstitutional.
Much of the justices’ ruling was based on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that decided the practice of redacting victims’ identities constitutes “a compelling interest” to limit some 1st Amendment rights.
“We agree there is a less compelling interest in protecting the identity of the alleged actor than there is in protecting that of the victim. This Court has been unable to locate any case in which protecting the identity of a person accused of sexual assault constituted a compelling interest,” the Wyoming Supreme Court said in 2014. “The press plays a vital role in disseminating information to the general public concerning the judiciary and what occurs in its domain. Public access to judicial documents serves to broaden the dissemination of information thereby allowing the general public to guard against malfeasance in our criminal justice system. … Because, as a general matter, criminal judicial documents meet the experience and logic test, a First Amendment right of access attaches to such documents.”