CHEYENNE– The Wyoming Supreme Court issued an order suspending former Jackson attorney Becket Benedict Hinckley from the practice of law for a period of three years. The order of suspension stemmed from Hinckley’s conduct as a prosecutor in an aggravated assault and battery case which resulted in the defendant’s conviction following a jury trial. On appeal, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that there was “no question that prosecutorial misconduct occurred prior to and during trial.” The Court held that Hinckley, at a minimum, interfered with the defendant’s opportunity to discover potentially exculpatory information by failing to comply with a pretrial discovery order. Hinckley also violated long-established prohibitions against vouching for the competence of law enforcement officers and the quality of the investigation. He made improper arguments appealing to the passion and prejudice of the jury and personally attacking defense counsel. As a result, the case was remanded for a new trial.

On remand, Hinckley continued not to comply with the court’s pretrial discovery order, which required Hinckley to exercise due diligence to obtain information from Facebook and Verizon regarding the alleged victim’s accounts during the period preceding and shortly after the assault and provide it to the defendant. When Hinckley persisted in his refusal to comply with the pretrial discovery order for more than six months after the Supreme Court’s order of remand, Hinckley’s supervisor removed him from the case. After Hinckley’s removal from the case, plea negotiations were held which resulted in a nolo plea (a plea by which a defendant in a criminal prosecution accepts conviction as though a guilty plea had been entered but does not admit guilt) by the defendant and a shorter jail sentence.

Following a three-day hearing in early May 2021 before a three-member hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR), the hearing panel found that Hinckley violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rule 1.3 (diligence), Rule 3.2 (duty to expedite litigation), Rule 3.3 (duty of candor to the tribunal), Rule 3.4 (fairness to opposing party and counsel), Rule 3.8 (special responsibilities of prosecutor), Rule 5.3 (responsibilities regarding nonlawyer assistance) and Rule 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) in his prosecution of the aggravated assault case. The hearing panel determined that disbarment was the appropriate sanction for Hinckley’s conduct and filed a report and recommendation to that effect with the Wyoming Supreme Court.

In a 3-2 decision, a majority of the Court upheld the hearing panel’s findings regarding Hinckley’s violations of Rules 1.3, 3.2, 3.4 and 8.4(d) but rejected the hearing panel’s finding of Rule 3.3 violations by Hinckley, holding that the record did not contain adequate proof that Hinckley’s misstatements to the trial court were knowingly or intentionally made. The majority expressed similar reservations about the hearing panel’s findings that Hinckley had violated Rules 3.8 and 5.3. The majority disagreed that disbarment was the appropriate sanction and ordered Hinckley suspended from the practice of law for a period of three years running from the date of the disciplinary hearing.

Chief Justice Fox wrote a separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justice Davis joined. Chief Justice Fox agreed with the hearing panel’s determination that Hinckley had violated Rules 1.3 and 3.3 and agreed with the hearing panel that disbarment was the appropriate sanction for Hinckley’s violations of those two rules. Chief Justice Fox agreed with the majority that a suspension was the appropriate sanction for Hinckley’s violations of Rules 3.2, 3.4, 3.8 and 8.4(d). Chief Justice Fox concluded, “Given the number of rule violations, their severity and pattern, Mr. Hinckley’s pervasive dishonesty, and the weighing of aggravating and mitigating factors, I believe that the appropriate sanction is disbarment. I would therefore accept the BPR’s recommended sanction.”

Order of Suspension

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