Submitted: February 7, 2018
from the Circuit Court of Boone County The Honorable William
S. Thompson, Judge Civil Action No. 15-F-95
F. Eddy, Esq. Counsel for Petitioner.
Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney Genera Gordon L. Mowen, II,
Esq. Assistant Attorney General Counsel for Re spo ndent.
JUSTICE WORKMAN delivered the Opinion of the Court.
BY THE COURT
"In reviewing challenges to findings and rulings made by
a circuit court, we apply a two-pronged deferential standard
of review. We review the rulings of the circuit court
concerning a new trial and its conclusion as to the existence
of reversible error under an abuse of discretion standard,
and we review the circuit court's underlying factual
findings under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law
are subject to a de novo review." Syl. Pt. 3, State
v. Vance, 207 W.Va. 640, 535 S.E.2d 484 (2000).
"'"The right to a trial by an impartial,
objective jury in a criminal case is a fundamental right
guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the
United States Constitution and Article III, Section 14 of the
West Virginia Constitution." Syllabus point 4, [in part,
] State v. Peacher, 167 W.Va. 540, 280 S.E.2d 559
(1981).' Syllabus point 4, in part, State v.
Derr, 192 W.Va. 165, 451 S.E.2d 731 (1994)." Syl.
Pt. 2, State v. Varner, 212 W.Va. 532, 575 S.E.2d
"The trial judge in a criminal trial must consistently
be aware that he occupies a unique position in the minds of
the jurors and is capable, because of his position, of unduly
influencing jurors in the discharge of their duty as triers
of the facts. This Court has consistently required trial
judges not to intimate an opinion on any fact in issue in any
manner. In criminal cases, we have frequently held that
conduct of the trial judge which indicates his opinion on any
material matter will result in a guilty verdict being set
aside and a new trial awarded." Syl. Pt. 4, State v.
Wotring, 167 W.Va. 104, 279 S.E.2d 182 (1981).
"In the trial of a criminal offense, the presumption of
innocence existing in favor of a defendant continues through
every stage of the trial until a finding of guilty by the
jury." Syl. Pt. 11, State v. Pietranton, 140
W.Va. 444, 84 S.E.2d 774 (1954).
"A criminal defendant challenging the sufficiency of the
evidence to support a conviction takes on a heavy burden. An
appellate court must review all the evidence, whether direct
or circumstantial, in the light most favorable to the
prosecution and must credit all inferences and credibility
assessments that the jury might have drawn in favor of the
prosecution. The evidence need not be inconsistent with every
conclusion save that of guilt so long as the jury can find
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Credibility determinations
are for a jury and not an appellate court. Finally, a jury
verdict should be set aside only when the record contains no
evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the
jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To the
extent that our prior cases are inconsistent, they are
expressly overruled." Syl. Pt. 3, State v.
Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995).
WORKMAN CHIEF JUSTICE
found Petitioner Frank Thompson guilty of four felony counts
of driving under the influence ("DUI") causing
death, two felony counts of child neglect resulting in death,
and three misdemeanors. On appeal, Petitioner asserts the
trial court's comments deprived him of his constitutional
right to a fair trial by an impartial jury. He also
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence on the felony
review, we find that the trial court's comments at the
beginning of the jury selection process tainted
Petitioner's presumption of innocence and deprived him of
a fair trial. We therefore reverse Petitioner's
convictions. Because the evidence of Petitioner's guilt
was otherwise sufficient, we reverse and remand for a new
early morning hours of September 19, 2014, Petitioner was
driving a vehicle on U.S. 119 in Boone County, West Virginia.
Four passengers were with Petitioner: his girlfriend, Betty
Holstein, their one-year-old-son, Nathaniel Thompson, Ms.
Holstein's five-year-old-daughter, Alyssa Bowman, and Ms.
Holstein's friend, Rebecca Bias. Petitioner drove the
vehicle off the side of the road and it crashed against an
embankment about 600 feet away, landed on the passenger side,
and caught fire. All of the passengers were killed.
an investigation, Petitioner-who tested positive for
methamphetamine following the accident-was arrested and
indicted on multiple charges. The case proceeded to trial in
March 2016. The jury found Petitioner guilty of six felonies
(four counts of DUI causing death and two counts of child
neglect resulting in death) and three misdemeanors (reckless
driving, driving on a suspended license, second offense, and
failure to maintain lane of travel).
State instituted recidivist proceedings.  Thereafter, the
trial court sentenced Petitioner in July 2016.
detail the relevant facts more specifically below as they
relate to Petitioner's two assignments of error.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
alleged errors raised by Petitioner are subject to particular
standards of review, which we set forth in connection with
our discussion of them. Generally, however,
[i]n reviewing challenges to findings and rulings made by a
circuit court, we apply a two-pronged deferential standard of
review. We review the rulings of the circuit court concerning
a new trial and its conclusion as to the existence of
reversible error under an abuse of discretion standard, and
we review the circuit court's underlying factual findings