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State v. Renner

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 10, 2017

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
v.
Carl Renner, Defendant Below, Petitioner

         Mingo County 15-F-135

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Carl Renner, by counsel Paul Andrew Montgomery, appeals the Circuit Court of Mingo County's February 2, 2016, order sentencing him to a term of incarceration of one to fifteen years for his conviction of one count of burglary. The State, by counsel Katlyn Miller, filed a response. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred with respect to its burglary and reasonable doubt instructions. Petitioner further alleges a violation of his due process rights by virtue of prosecutorial misconduct and cumulative error.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, this Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         During the September of 2015 term of court, petitioner was indicted on one count of burglary. This charge stemmed from an incident in April of 2015, when Kimberly and Jim Whittaker and their granddaughter returned to their home to find the front door unlocked. Upon entering the home, Mrs. Whittaker and her granddaughter noticed an intruder with a bandana around his face. The Whittakers' granddaughter recognized the intruder as petitioner, the Whittakers' neighbor. At this point, petitioner ran to the back door while Mrs. Whittaker repeatedly asked why he was in the home. Mrs. Whittaker called emergency services, and petitioner eventually escaped. Police arrived and took statements from Mrs. Whittaker and her granddaughter. Approximately one week later, Mrs. Whittaker noticed that the intruder took a box containing jewelry, among other items.

         At trial, both Mrs. Whittaker and her granddaughter testified to their recollection of the incident in question. Petitioner did not testify. At the close of the State's case-in-chief, petitioner filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, which the circuit court denied. Thereafter, the State gave its closing arguments, to which petitioner did not object. Additionally, the State proposed jury instructions that the circuit court accepted without objection from petitioner. Thereafter, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the lone count of burglary.

          In January of 2016, the circuit court heard arguments regarding post-trial motions, including petitioner's motion for a new trial, which the circuit court denied. The circuit court then sentenced petitioner to a term of incarceration of one to fifteen years. It is from the sentencing order that petitioner appeals.

We have previously established the following standard of review:
"In reviewing the findings of fact and conclusions of law of a circuit court . . ., we apply a three-pronged standard of review. We review the decision . . . under an abuse of discretion standard; the underlying facts are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard; and questions of law and interpretations of statutes and rules are subject to a de novo review." Syllabus Point 1, State v. Head, 198 W.Va. 298, 480 S.E.2d 507 (1996).

Syl. Pt. 1, in part, State v. Georgius, 225 W.Va. 716, 696 S.E.2d 18 (2010). Upon our review, we find no error in the proceedings below.

         First, this Court finds no merit to petitioner's arguments that the circuit court erred in omitting an instruction on the underlying crime petitioner was alleged to have intended to commit or in its instruction on reasonable doubt. In regard to these assignments of error, it is important to note that petitioner did not object to the jury instructions given below. As such, pursuant to Rule 30 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure, this Court will apply a plain-error analysis to these assignments of error. We have previously held that

"[t]o trigger application of the 'plain error' doctrine, there must be (1) an error; (2) that is plain; (3) that affects substantial rights; and (4) seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings." Syl. Pt. 7, State v. Miller, 194 W.Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995).

Syl. Pt. 7, State v. Greenfield, 237 W.Va. 740, 791 S.E.2d 403 (2016). Further, we have held that "this Court will not ordinarily recognize plain error [in the giving of an erroneous instruction (in the absence of a proper and timely objection at trial)], even of constitutional magnitude, where the giving of the erroneous instruction did not substantially impair the truth-finding function of the trial." Syl. Pt. 2, in part, State v. Hutchinson, 176 W.Va. 172, 342 S.E.2d 138 (1986).

         Petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in omitting the specific underlying crime that he intended to commit when instructing the jury on the material elements of burglary. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 61-3-11(a), "[i]f any person shall, in the nighttime, break and enter, or enter without breaking, or shall, in the daytime, break and enter, the dwelling house, or an outhouse adjoining thereto or occupied therewith, of another, with intent to commit a crime therein, he shall be deemed guilty of burglary." (emphasis added). According to petitioner, because the circuit court failed to instruct the jury as to the specific intent required to prove burglary, the circuit court's instruction was erroneously abstract and constitutes error. Petitioner argues that the circuit court's instruction simply mirrored ...


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