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Supreme Court rejects challenge of 'no-knock' search

THERMOPOLIS — The Wyoming Supreme Court issued an opinion on March 27, in favor of Hot Springs District Court’s action regarding Paul D. Mathewson.

In his appeal, Mathewson contended the district court erred by denying his motions to suppress evidence and to dismiss for lack of a speedy trial. He further contended his conviction for felony possession of a controlled substance and claimed liquid contained in his water pipe that tested positive for methamphetamine doesn’t constitute “a controlled substance in liquid form” under Wyoming statutes.

According to the facts of the case presented in the appeal, on May 5, 2015, law enforcement issued a no-knock search warrant on Mathewson’s residence, as there was suspicion he was trafficking meth in the county. Officers seized drugs and paraphernalia from the residence including prescription pills, small quantities of marijuana and meth, syringes and the water pipe, which was filled with a colored liquid that tested presumptive positive for meth.

Mathewson had been arrested on May 3, 2015 and initially charged with felony possession of meth and misdemeanors of possession of meth, possession of methadone and possession of marijuana.

Court proceedings under several continuations and rescheduling, largely due to Mathewson’s dissatisfaction with several court-appointed attorneys. Hot Springs Circuit Court attempted hold a timely preliminary hearing, but Mathewson’s attorney didn’t appear and the court refused to go forward without the attorney present. Mathewson’s bail was set and the preliminary hearing rescheduled.

Mathewson was able to bond out, but charges against him were amended to include an additional count of felony delivery of meth. Mathewson executed a waiver of a speedy preliminary hearing and requested it be continued further. Eventually the hearing was held in June of 2015 and Mathewson was bound over to Hot Springs District Court on the felony charges while the misdemeanors remained in circuit court.

At a pre-trial conference in January 2016, the court acknowledged a motion to dismiss from Mathewson, who alleged problems with his prior counsel, violations of his speedy preliminary hearing and speedy trial rights, and malicious prosecution. In light of the motion and Mathewson’s previous issues with counsel, the conference was left open until it could be rescheduled.

Continued conflict led to the trial being rescheduled for late February and, finally, for October of 2016. Prior to trial, Mathewson’s counsel again filed a motion for substitution of counsel citing conflicts of interest and professional considerations. The motion was granted after the substitute counsel provided assurance he could proceed with trial. Mathewson filed a demand for speedy trial and another motion to dismiss, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, speedy trial and discovery violations, and expressing overall disagreement with the charges against him.

Mathewson’s counsel moved to suppress evidence a few weeks before trial, contending the search warrant was based on unreliable and uncorroborated information from confidential informants, and a neutral and detached magistrate did not issue it. The attorney further filed a pretrial memorandum and raised concerns about the timing for resolution of outstanding motions in advance of trial. Mathewson’s counsel acknowledged the court’s concern with another continuance in light of the speedy trial demand, but stated Mathewson recognized “that any and all continuances related to obtaining new counsel and filing of motions to suppress . . . would not count toward his speedy trial date, and would waive any argument, now or in the future, that these continuances should be counted when calculating the speedy trial date.”

Mathewson’s attorney also requested assignment of a new judge after discovering a potential conflict. The motion was granted and the case reassigned. Further, a hearing was set to resolve pending motions and reserved trial dates in January and February of 2017 to attempt to comply with the speedy trial demand.

Mathewson filed another motion to dismiss, again asserting a speedy trial violation and claiming discovery violations. The district court conducted a motions hearing, and later issued a written order denying Mathewson’s motion to suppress, “finding sufficient reliability and veracity to support the information provided by three of the confidential informants and further finding Mr. Mathewson failed to provide any evidence substantiating his claim that the issuing judge was biased and not impartial.”

After the trial and nearly three hours of deliberation, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on six charges against Mathewson including two counts of possession of methamphetamine, use of meth and possession of marijuana; trespassing from a Sept. 16, 2015 incident; and driving with a suspended license, stemming from Dec. 14, 2015. He was found not guilty of delivery of meth and possession of methadone.

Mathewson’s counsel filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for felony possession of methamphetamine. The court denied the motion after a hearing, concluding evidence provided a valid basis for Mathewson’s felony methamphetamine possession conviction. Following sentencing, Mathewson moved to stay his sentences pending final disposition after an appeal. The court granted the stay, but continued Mathewson’s original bond conditions.

In his appeal, Mathewson claimed “the district court improperly denied his motion to suppress evidence, contending the affidavit in support of the no-knock search warrant lacked probable cause, ‘contained contradictory statements and outright lies by the informants,’ and was not issued by a neutral and detached magistrate. For these reasons, Mathewson asserts the search warrant failed to comport with the state and federal constitutions and necessitates suppression of all the evidence obtained under the warrant.” He further contended his right to a speedy trial was violated and that the meth detected in his bong water — evidence used to support his conviction of felony possession of meth — is not meth in “liquid form.”

The conclusion of the Supreme Court is that the district court “The district court properly denied Mr. Mathewson’s motion to suppress because probable cause existed to issue the no-knock warrant and a district court commissioner issued the warrant as required.” The Supreme Court also concluded “Mathewson’s claim the probable cause affidavit contained false information is waived . . . We also conclude Mathewson was not denied his right to a speedy trial. Further, we conclude sufficient evidence supports Mathewson’s conviction of felony possession of methamphetamine.”