WV Supreme Court rules on right to counsel case - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

WV Supreme Court rules on right to counsel case

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Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court

A person's right to counsel is protected if they assert this right in an arraignment hearing, even if the person waives this right in a police-initiated interrogation after such a hearing, West Virginia Supreme Court justices recently ruled.

The June 13 opinion, delivered by Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, addressed the Marshall County Circuit Court order in a sexual abuse case against William Bevel.

In this case, Bevel requested counsel to be appointed during his arraignment hearing but after this hearing, he signed a waiver of his right to counsel in a police interrogation.

He then proceeded to make incriminating statements to the police

The case created a new syllabus point, ruling that in this type of situation, the defendant would have the right to counsel.

"We now explicitly hold that if police initiate interrogation after a defendant asserts his right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding, any waiver of the defendant's right to counsel for that police-initiated interrogation is invalid," the opinion states.

 Two justices, Margaret Workman and Allen Loughry, dissented from the majority's opinion. In his dissent, Loughry called the majority's decision "a monumental step backward for West Virginia's criminal jurisprudence."

"The tragic end result in this case is that Mr. Bevel's voluntary confession to sexually molesting his 2-year-old stepdaughter will not be admissible, and thus, cannot ever be used against him in any criminal proceeding," Loughry's June 19 dissent states. "This is particularly troubling in that it is highly unlikely that this child will be able to testify against her parental abuser and this brutal and savage act will likely go unpunished." 

The state Supreme Court opinion notes that the order is "devoid of factual findings;" so, background information was "gleaned from documents included in the appendix record" from the state.

The case dates back to 2008 when a 2-year-old child was placed in her grandmother's custody after an abuse and neglect proceeding was brought against Bevel's wife Carrie.

Later, the grandmother witnessed the child "acting out sexually." She contacted authorities, who interviewed the child.

The child said both Bevels had touched her in a sexual manner, the opinion states.

In 2010, Bevel appeared before a Marshall County magistrate, where he requested counsel. Later that day, police took Bevel into an interrogation room, where he waived his right to counsel.

During that interrogation, Bevel admitted to sexually abusing the child while his wife helped.

An indictment returned against him in July 2011 charged him with sexual abuse by a custodian parent or person of trust; incest; first degree sexual assault and displaying obscene matter to a minor.

Bevel filed a motion to suppress what he said to police officers in the interrogation and the court held an evidentiary hearing to address his statements.

The court later determined Bevel failed to reassert his right to counsel during the interrogation and denied his motion to suppress.

Bevel later entered a Kennedy plea to sexual abuse by parent, guardian, custodian or person in position of trust, while preserving a right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress.

In a Kennedy plea, the person does not admit the act but admits the prosecution could prove the charge.

Bevel was sentenced to no less than 10 or more than 20 years in the West Virginia Penitentiary for Men. He then appealed his conviction and sentencing order.

West Virginia Supreme Court justices ruled the state court should have granted his motion to suppress, reversing his conviction and sentence and remanding the case for further proceedings.

In his dissent, Loughry said the majority was "severely shortsighted" to diverge from the federal approach. He said the right to counsel "no longer mirrors the rights accorded by the Sixth Amendment."

"Because the constitutional right to counsel itself is not altered as the result of allowing police-initiated waivers of counsel from being upheld, the majority's supposition is premised on a ‘sky is falling' mentality rather than the reasoned analysis typical of this court's opinions," his dissent states.

"Moreover, in stating that the right to counsel guaranteed by our state constitution no longer mirrors the rights accorded by the Sixth Amendment, the majority has processed down a path that is likely to create the very uncertainty in the law that it sought to avoid."