Wyoming, like most states, distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors based on the maximum penalty allowed under the law. Misdemeanors carry a maximum possible sentence of one year's jail time. A felony is any crime that carries the possibility of more than one year and up to life in prison or the death penalty.
This article will discuss felony sentencing, parole, and expungement in Wyoming. For information on misdemeanors, check out Wyoming Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Many states designate felony crimes by class or level (such as class A or level 1 felony) and set a punishment for each class of crimes. Other states set the punishment in statute on a crime-by-crime basis. Wyoming takes this latter approach. The law defines each crime and sets a maximum penalty (and sometimes minimum) for that crime.
Here are some examples of felony penalties found in Wyoming's statutes:
Repeat violent felony offenders face stiff mandatory minimum sentences in Wyoming. A person convicted of a violent felony offense who has two prior felony convictions faces ten to 50 years in prison. If the violent felony is the fourth or subsequent felony offense, the law imposes a life sentence. Wyoming still carries the death penalty, but the last execution was in 1992.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 6-10-101, -102, -107, -201 (2021).)
When imposing a felony sentence, judges can order one or more of the following:
Wyoming's laws require a judge to hand down a sentence that includes a minimum and maximum term of imprisonment and then either "execute or suspend" the prison sentence. Executing the sentence means the judge is sending the offender to prison. Suspending (or staying) a sentence means the judge will suspend the prison sentence and give the offender a chance to serve the sentence in the community on probation. (Wyo. Stat. § 7-13-107, -201, -302 (2021).)
Wyoming law authorizes several probation options for felony offenders.
Deferred sentencing; first-offender program. A first-time felony offender might qualify for a deferred sentence, as long as the prosecution consents and the offender has not previously participated in the program. (Defendants charged with certain assault, sexual assault, or arson crimes don't qualify.) Under this program, the defendant enters a guilty plea, but the judge doesn't enter the conviction. Instead, the judge places the defendant on probation for one to three years, during which time the defendant must remain crime-free, report in with the court, pay restitution to victims, and obey any other terms. If the defendant successfully complies with probation, the court can dismiss the proceedings against the defendant (and no conviction results). But a violation can mean a conviction and possible prison time. This program is a one-time-only opportunity.
Suspended sentence. A judge generally has two options when suspending a sentence and placing a defendant on probation: either suspending imposition or execution of the sentence. When suspending imposition of sentencing, the judge enters the conviction but holds off on handing down a sentence. For suspending execution of sentencing, the judge enters the conviction and hands down the sentence but holds off on sending the defendant to prison. In either case, the sentence remains suspended only if the defendant complies with the probation terms. A judge may reduce the probation term if the defendant shows progress, or the judge can extend, modify, or revoke probation if the defendant violates conditions. If revoked, the judge proceeds with the case or sentencing as if the suspension never took place.
Split sentence of incarceration. Another option for a felony conviction (other than those punishable by life or death) involves split sentences in jail followed by probation. Here, the judge orders the defendant to serve one or more stints in jail. The defendant spends the remainder of the sentence on probation. Similar to above, the suspended prison sentence hinges on the defendant's compliance with the probation terms. A violation can mean prison time.
If the judge orders the sentence executed (either at the initial sentencing or after revoking probation), the offender will start serving the prison sentence. The amount of time the offender will serve depends on the minimum and maximum terms imposed by the judge and whether the offender qualifies for parole.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 7-13-201, -301 to -305, -501, -1102, -1303, -1605, -1708 (2021).)
Wyoming is among the majority of states that use "indeterminate sentencing" rather than "determinate sentencing." In states with determinate sentences, the judge announces an offender's prison term at sentencing and the offender's release date is pretty straightforward. For indeterminate sentences, the judge announces a prison term or range at sentencing, but a parole board will determine the offender's release date from prison—making the release date more unpredictable. However, with indeterminate sentencing, good behavior and rehabilitation can equal early release.
In Wyoming, a judge will hand down a sentence that sets the minimum and maximum terms of imprisonment, within the limits set by statute.
Once in prison, the offender's release will be up to a parole board. At most, the offender serves the maximum term sentenced. At the very least, the inmate serves the minimum term minus any "good time" earned. (Wardens award good time—usually in terms of days per month—for an inmate's good behavior.) So, if the minimum term is ten years and the offender earns 180 days of good time, the offender could be released after 9 ½ years. But parole release is not guaranteed. And certain inmates are not eligible for parole, including those who escaped or attempted to escape from a correctional institution or those who assaulted prison staff or another inmate with a deadly weapon.
The inmate's first parole hearing generally occurs prior to completion of the minimum sentence term. The parole board must make its release decisions based on public safety, victim concerns, and an individual offender's criminal history and rehabilitative efforts, among other factors.
After interviews and a hearing, the parole board can deny parole, grant parole, or issue alternative orders, such as requiring completion of treatment or releasing the inmate to a supervision program. Once on parole, the maximum prison sentence continues to loom over the inmate as an incentive to comply with parole conditions. Similar to probation, a violation can result in modification or revocation of parole.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 7-13-401 and following (2021).)
A person with a felony conviction can petition the court to have the record expunged (or sealed from public view) after ten years have passed since the completion of the sentence (including full payment of restitution). The person cannot have any other felony convictions on record. By law, a number of felonies are ineligible for expungement, including felonies involving a firearm, over a dozen violent felonies, sexual assault, child abuse, vehicular homicide, and others.
(Wyo. Stat. § 7-13-1502 (2021).)
Statutes of limitations set a time limit for prosecutors to begin criminal prosecutions. Wyoming is one of two states that have no statutes of limitations for any crimes, meaning the state can generally file charges at any time after the offense is committed.
Felony convictions have serious and lasting consequences beyond prison time and fines. A criminal record makes it difficult to obtain a job, professional license, or housing. If you are charged with a felony, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help protect your rights and vigorously defend your case.