Dharminder Sen: In Limine Hearing

Dharminder Sen escorted into the Sheridan County Courthouse in August, 2009.
Dharminder Sen escorted into the Sheridan County Courthouse in August, 2009.

Diminished Capacity: in criminal law, the inability to have the state of mind required for the commission of a particular crime.

Intent: the state of mind wherein the person knows and desires the consequences of his or her act. For criminal liability, intent must exist at the time the offense is committed.

On Friday, October 15th, State Prosecutor Matt Redle, Sheridan County Attorney, went before Judge John Fenn on an In Limine Motion prior to the October 25th trial of Dharminder Sen. Sen is the second of the three defendants to go to trial; he's charged with the shooting death in August, 2009 of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst. Sen was 15 years old at the time of his alleged involvement in the crime.

Redle's motion was to request that the Defense, headed by Tim Cotton of Casper, not be allowed to have two expert witnesses testify concerning Sen's mental state, particularly because neither had personally conducted mental evaluations on him. Redle argued that Sen's mind was not one of diminished capacity, but had the normal brain development of a 15-year-old juvenile male, according to the evaluation that was done by Dr. Laura McCormick of the Wyoming State Hospital.

Cotton countered that it is not for him to prove, but for a jury to decide, the state of Sen's mind on August 26th, 2009. Cotton told Judge Fenn that he didn't plan to ask his two experts – Dr. Marie Banitch and Dr. Ronna Dillinger – their opinions of mental capacity. Cotton continued, “The jury has to determine that Dhar had specific intent when setting out to commit the crime in relation to how a 15-year-old brain develops, and what are pertinent traits of a 15-year-old. 15-year-olds are compulsive, they succumb to peer pressure, they idolize older kids.”

Cotton also argued that “a 15-year-old acting like a 15-year-old is not diminished capacity...he did not act as an adult.” He added, “I know Mr. Redle doesn't like it, but Mr. Redle chose to charge a 15-year-old as an adult.” In rebuttal, Redle said that he was sorry “Mr. Cotton's feelings are hurt” that Sen is being tried as an adult, but that was determined during the Transfer Hearing earlier this year.

Judge Fenn granted the In Limine motion on the condition that reference to Sen's mental state not be made during opening arguments, and that Dr. McCormick must first testify. Another hearing has been scheduled into the trial mid-week to then determine what, if any, testimony may be heard from Dr.'s Banitch and Dillinger. Meantime, Judge Fenn will be reading the transcript of the two experts' testimony from the Transfer Hearing to get some idea of what they may say in court.

Jury selection for Dharminder Sen's trial begins at 9 o'clock Monday morning, October 25th.

The other defendants are Dennis Poitra, Jr., who was found guilty in September of First Degree Murder; Aggravated Burglary; and Conspiracy to Commit Burglary. Wyatt Bear Cloud had plead guilty to the three charges following Poitra, Jr.'s trial; his attorney has been removed and replaced with a public defender from Casper, and a motion has been filed for Bear Cloud to remove the guilty plea.

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