McLaren v. Wyoming

Steven McLaren challenged his convictions for five felonies stemming from a bizarre and violent encounter with his girlfriend in 2014. McLaren owned 57 cats. He and his girlfriend, Jennifer Evans, referred to the cats as their “kids” or “the kid.” In March 2014, one of Mr. McLaren’s exotic Savannah kittens, Cameo, was sick, so he and Evans took it to a veterinary clinic for treatment. McLaren testified that he had injected “somewhere between a quarter and a third of a gram” of methamphetamine right before he noticed Cameo was ill, had not slept for days, and had been experiencing hallucinations since the night before. He was under the impression that Evans was attempting to harm or kill the kitten. After taking the kitten to the vet, McLaren and Evans drove around for a time. Though nothing seemed out of the ordinary at that time, McLaren came to a complete stop in the southbound lane in front of an oncoming Pepsi truck. Evans attempted to get out of the truck, but he pulled her by her hair back into the truck and locked the doors, telling her that her “kids deserved a better mother” and that she “was going to die today.” The Pepsi truck swerved around them, and McLaren turned off Highway 191, onto Wild Horse Loop. As he drove down Wild Horse Loop, Evans fought with McLaren and continued to attempt to get out, kicking the truck into park several times. McLaren also continued to hit and punch Evans; he grabbed her throat and forced her to the floorboard of the truck. At some point, McLaren opened the passenger door and Evans fell. She testified that McLaren stood over her, pulled her head to the left and the right, “trying to rip my head off,” and then let go. As soon as McLaren released her, Evans got up and ran toward Highway 191, where a truck stopped to assist her. When Evans arrived at the emergency room, she had two lacerations on her head and numerous bruises. Appealing his felonies, McLaren argued the trial court violated his due process rights when it failed to order a third competency evaluation and when it allowed defense counsel to assert a plea of not guilty by reason of mental illness (NGMI) against his will. He also argued the jury instructions contained structural error because they did not require the State to prove he did not act in a sudden heat of passion to establish attempted second-degree murder and that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied defense counsel’s motion for mistrial after McLaren’s outburst during trial. The Wyoming Supreme Court concluded that, while the trial court did not improperly fail to order a competency hearing, it violated McLaren’s due process rights when, in spite of McLaren’s numerous declarations that he did not wish to proceed with the NGMI plea, it allowed defense counsel to assert the plea at trial. View "McLaren v. Wyoming" on Justia Law