Wyoming Criminal Law: An Overview
While Wyoming is the least populous state in the country, it is not without its share of criminal laws. Crimes such as murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, arson and robbery are penalized just as severely in the Cowboy State as in others. It’s therefore just as important for you to learn about the laws that either incriminate or protect you.
Use LawInfo’s criminal law articles to help educate yourself about Wyoming’s laws and how they affect your case. You can learn about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, intoxicated driving charges and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with a Wyoming criminal law attorney in Cheyenne, Casper, Gillette or elsewhere in the state.
Wyoming Criminal Statute of Limitations
In most states, prosecutors have a limited amount of time to petition for a criminal lawsuit against certain offenses before any legal action against those offenses is permanently barred. The rules and time limits for criminal prosecutions are contained within a state’s statute of limitations.
Wyoming is special because it doesn’t have a criminal statute of limitations. This means that there are no time limits for criminal prosecutions. Any crime can be prosecuted in the state at any time, indefinitely.
Wyoming Capital Punishment
A person who is convicted of murder in the first degree may be sentenced to capital punishment (i.e. the death penalty) in Wyoming. Murder in the first degree is the most serious felony offense in the state. The court must find evidence of one of several aggravating factors for a criminal to qualify for capital punishment, including:
- The murder was committed while the murderer was incarcerated, on parole, on probation or released on bail for another felony.
- The murderer was simultaneously committing aircraft piracy or using an explosive device.
- The murder was committed to escape arrest or custody.
- The murder was committed for personal or financial gain.
- The victim was a law enforcement or court officer.
Executions are carried out using lethal injection or, if lethal injection is considered unconstitutional, using lethal gas. However, Wyoming has executed only one prisoner since its capital punishment laws were reinstated in 1972.
Murder vs. Manslaughter in Wyoming
While the death of one person at the hands of another is a serious offense regardless of the circumstances, Wyoming recognizes that not all homicides should be penalized equally. An intentional homicide should be penalized more severely than an accidental one. Therefore, state law prescribes different definitions and penalties for murder and manslaughter offenses.
Murder is the most severely punished form of homicide in Wyoming with penalties ranging from 20 years to lifetime imprisonment or capital punishment. Felons who committed murder were found to have intentionally killed their victims.
Manslaughter, on the other hand, is considered an accidental homicide. The felon was found to have killed their victim as the result of extreme emotional distress (also called a “heat of passion” homicide), criminal negligence or recklessness—including vehicular recklessness or impaired driving. Manslaughter is penalized with up to 20 years of imprisonment. (See § 6-2-105.)
Crime Classifications in Wyoming
Every state has its own system of classifying crimes which also identifies the statutory punishments for each classification. Wyoming has two main criminal offense classifications, in order of seriousness: felonies and misdemeanors. (See § 6-10-101 et. seq.)
Felonies are the only crimes that may be penalized with more than one year of imprisonment or capital punishment. Otherwise, any other crime is a misdemeanor.
Most offenses carry their own range of penalties which include fines and imprisonment time in either county jail (for misdemeanors) or a state penitentiary (for felonies). If an offense doesn’t carry statutory penalty limits, Wyoming law limits fines for felonies to no more than $10,000 and misdemeanor penalties to no more than six months of jail time and $750 in fines.