Wyoming’s governor recently signed into law bills that would increase stalking penalties and ease the path to exoneration for wrongfully convicted people, but the state’s edible marijuana laws remain in limbo.
A pair of bills that sought to modify Wyoming law governing marijuana failed to reach Gov. Matt Mead’s desk, leaving a legal loophole in place that has at least twice caused the dismissal of marijuana possession cases.
Because Wyoming statute defines marijuana as a plant, other forms are not directly addressed by state law. The two bills aimed to modify statutes to directly address non-plant forms of the drug.
After one version of the legislation failed a February introductory vote in the Wyoming House, legislators replaced the Senate bill with language identical to the failed House bill. The substitute language was never brought for consideration.
A bill that would have lowered speeding fines and simplified the associated schedule of costs used by the Wyoming Highway Patrol likewise was heavily amended before its failure.
The House Judiciary Committee removed a reduction in fees after a representative of the Wyoming Highway Patrol expressed concern about lower fines leading to unsafe driving. The amended bill was never considered by the entirety of the House.
After the vote, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, described the final 25-34 tally as “not bad.”
The legislation will increase the maximum punishment for misdemeanor stalking from six months to one year and increase the maximum penalty for felony stalking from five years to 10. It will also give judges the ability to sentence a person convicted of misdemeanor stalking up to three years of probation, rather than the old maximum of one year.
The new law will also expand the definition of harassment.
Wyoming statutes defined the term as “a course of conduct” that would make a reasonable person “suffer substantial emotional distress, and which does in fact seriously alarm the person toward whom it is directed.” The freshly-inked law expands the definition to include actions that would make a reasonable person fear for their safety, that of another person or for the safety of their property.
Strangulation of a household member will also be defined as a violent felony under the new law.
Mead also signed a bill to expand the length of time wrongfully convicted people have to introduce exonerating evidence. The new law, based on similar legislation enacted in Utah, should serve as a model for the nation, a group that works to reverse wrongful convictions said.
In Wyoming, people convicted of crimes had a two-year window in which they could present non-DNA evidence in an effort to have their conviction overturned.
The new law eliminates that two-year limit, allowing wrongfully convicted people to introduce non-DNA evidence at any point.
Appeals seeking to overturn wrongful convictions typically take 10 years to assemble, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that provides legal help to wrongfully convicted people and seeks to reform laws nationwide to make the path to exoneration easier for innocent people.
“This new law is a model for the entire country. It will help the innocent get justice and help law enforcement identify the person who actually committed the crime,” Michelle Feldman, a lobbyist for the Innocence Project, said in a news release.
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