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Date: 08-17-2022

Case Style:

Joseph Sena v. The State of Wyoming

Case Number: 2022 WY 98

Judge: Fenn

Court: Supreme Court of Wyoming on appeal from the District Court, Laramie County

Plaintiff's Attorney: Bridget L. Hill, Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Deputy Attorney General; Joshua C. Eames, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Catherine M. Mercer, Assistant
Attorney General.

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Cheyenne, Wyoming criminal lawyer represented Defendant charged with burglary.

[¶3] Joseph Sena pled no contest to charges in two separate dockets, Docket No. 34-682
and 34-683.1 In Docket No. 34-682, Mr. Sena pled no contest to one count of burglary for
acts he committed on October 8, 2017. In Docket No. 34-683, he pled no contest to one
count of attempted voluntary manslaughter for acts he committed on January 17, 2019. For
both dockets, Mr. Sena agreed the district court could rely on the affidavits of probable
cause to provide a factual basis for his pleas.2
[¶4] In Docket No. 34-682, the State charged Mr. Sena with one count of burglary.
According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause, the Cheyenne Police Department received a
report of a home invasion burglary on October 8, 2017. It was reported that the owner and
her two children arrived home and heard a loud banging on the front door. The owner
stated there was a louder bang and three males entered her residence. One of the men
claimed to have a gun and asked for “Travis.” The owner responded that she did not know
Travis and threatened to kill the men. The men left with items from inside the home. The
owner reported her purse was taken from her bedroom and two decorative knives were
missing from her living room wall. The children found her purse a short distance away
and the three men were seen leaving in a silver sedan near where the purse was located.
[¶5] The owner witnessed one of the men holding the glass pane from her screen door.
Investigating officers seized the glass pane and submitted it to the Wyoming State Crime
Laboratory for forensic analysis. The State Crime Lab found 15 latent prints and identified
prints belonging to the owner and Mr. Sena.
[¶6] In Docket No. 34-683, the State charged Mr. Sena with two counts: Count 1)
attempted murder in the first degree; and Count 2) aggravated assault. According to the
Affidavit of Probable Cause, on January 17, 2019, the Cheyenne Police Department
received a report of a stabbing, and officers were dispatched to the scene. At the scene,
officers contacted the victim and his girlfriend. The officers observed multiple stab
wounds and cuts on the victim’s body and had him transported to the hospital. Officers
interviewed the victim’s girlfriend. She reported seeing a gold-colored car in the alley
when she and the victim pulled into the driveway. She stated the gold-colored car pulled
out of the alley, drove past her residence, turned around, and parked in the street. She
stated two men exited the vehicle and approached the victim and began stabbing him. She
identified Mr. Sena and Isaac Garcia as the suspects. At the hospital, the victim also
identified Mr. Sena and Isaac Garcia as the men who attacked and stabbed him.
[¶7] A relative of the next-door neighbor witnessed the attack and spoke with officers at
the scene. Officers were later able to obtain video surveillance from the neighbors’ house.
The video captured the attack.
[¶8] On July 28, 2020, Mr. Sena entered into a global plea agreement pursuant to Rule
11(e)(1)(B) of the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure (“W.R.Cr.P”). In Docket No.
34-683, Mr. Sena agreed to plead guilty to an amended charge of attempted voluntary
manslaughter in exchange for the State dismissing the aggravated assault charge. The State
further agreed to recommend a sentence of not less than ten nor more than twelve years of
incarceration to run concurrently with the burglary and a separate probation revocation. In
Docket No. 34-682, Mr. Sena agreed to plead guilty to burglary in exchange for the State
recommending a sentence of not less than three nor more than five years of incarceration
to run concurrently with the attempted voluntary manslaughter and his probation
[¶9] At the change of plea hearing held on July 30, 2020, defense counsel stated Mr.
Sena requested to plead no contest to the charges instead of guilty. The State agreed to the
no contest pleas and later filed an amended plea agreement to reflect the change. Mr. Sena
entered no contest pleas to burglary and attempted voluntary manslaughter.
[¶10] Four months later, the district court held a sentencing hearing on November 18,
2020. In support of the plea agreement, the State discussed problems with witness
cooperation. It argued under the circumstances it was best to take Mr. Sena out of the
community for ten to twelve years, “given the issues [it] had with witnesses who were
simply afraid to testify.” Defense counsel took issue with the State’s argument and claimed
the State was “flagrantly violating the spirit of the plea agreement by attacking [Mr. Sena]
as some type of dangerous individual and all but inviting the Court to impose a sentence
greater than that agreed to by the State.” The State reiterated that it believed the plea
agreement was appropriate and stated its comments “made a record that [the State has]
issues with the witnesses . . . that make it appropriate to impose” the agreed-upon sentence.
The State also clarified its comments by stating it “made the record of [its] discussions with
law enforcement . . . regarding the plea agreement.”
[¶11] The district court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Mr. Sena to three to
five years for the burglary charge in Docket No. 34-682 to run concurrently with Docket
No. 34-683 and a probation revocation. The district court sentenced Mr. Sena to a period
of ten to twelve years for the attempted voluntary manslaughter charge in Docket No. 34-
683 to run concurrently with Docket No. 34-682 and the probation revocation.
[¶12] Almost a month after the sentence was imposed, Mr. Sena filed a motion to allow
substitution of counsel in both dockets. He also filed motions requesting to withdraw his
pleas of no contest. Mr. Sena contended the State admitted at the sentencing hearing that
it withheld information about the availability of witnesses in order to induce him to enter
into the plea agreement. He further contended his previous defense counsel was ineffective
because he did not investigate the availability of the State’s witnesses.
[¶13] At the motions to withdraw hearing held on January 11, 2021, defense counsel did
not introduce any evidence and instead presented argument consistent with the written
motions to withdraw. In an oral ruling,3 the district court denied Mr. Sena’s motions to
withdraw and found Mr. Sena did not demonstrate any necessity to correct a manifest
injustice. Mr. Sena timely filed a notice of appeal in both dockets.
[¶14] On May 28, 2021, Mr. Sena filed a motion in both dockets arguing ineffective
assistance of counsel pursuant to Wyoming Rule of Appellate Procedure 21. This Court
stayed briefing until further notice. In his motion, Mr. Sena claimed his trial counsel “was
ineffective for failing to properly investigate the availability of witnesses and counsel Mr.
Sena accordingly.” The district court held an evidentiary hearing and subsequently denied
the Rule 21 motion, holding Mr. Sena failed to show defense counsel’s performance was
deficient. It found:

[Defense counsel’s] investigation of State witnesses’
availability and willingness to testify at trial was reasonable
based upon the strength of the evidence. There was video
surveillance footage identifying Mr. Sena. [The victim’s
girlfriend] and her children were under subpoena, and the
victim . . . was in custody in Larimer County Colorado. In
other words, the strength of this evidence then suggested to
[defense counsel] that no further inquiry into the availability of
the State’s witnesses was needed.
Additionally, the district court held Mr. Sena suffered no prejudice and determined:
Remarks made by [the State] at the sentencing hearing
indicated that while the State had some difficulty with its
witnesses, there was no indication that the State would have no
witnesses available and willing to testify should the matter
proceed to trial. In addition, [the investigator with the public
defender’s office] testified she had maintained contact with
[the victim’s girlfriend]. [The victim coordinator] testified she
maintained contact with [the victim’s girlfriend], and [the
victim’s girlfriend] and her two children, who were
eyewitnesses to the stabbing, were under subpoena.
Importantly, and as [defense counsel] testified, no prejudice
resulted to Defendant because regardless of witness
availability, video surveillance footage captured Mr. Sena’s
role in stabbing [the victim].
[¶15] On September 17, 2021, Mr. Sena timely filed a third notice of appeal, appealing
the district court’s decision on his Rule 21 ineffective assistance of counsel claim. This
Court lifted the stay and consolidated all three appeals.


Outcome: Affirmed.

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