Court upholds ex psychiatrist’s aggravated assault conviction
By CJ Baker
July 25, 2019
The Wyoming Supreme Court says there was more than enough evidence to convict a former Cody psychiatrist of aggravated assault and battery for crashing into another vehicle while high.
On Tuesday, the state’s highest court rejected Matthew V. Hopkins’ appeal of his felony conviction, upholding a Park County jury’s decision from last year.
Hopkins received an 18- to 36-month prison sentence for the offense in June 2018 and has already been released. A spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Corrections said Hopkins was paroled last month and is now living in Texas.
Hopkins was apologetic at his sentencing last year and has never disputed the basic facts of the case: He got high off a can of compressed air on the morning of March 14, 2017, and passed out while driving to his office, crashing into an oncoming vehicle and injuring the other driver.
However, Hopkins has contended that his actions did not amount to aggravated assault and battery, defined as “knowingly caus[ing] bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.” (In this case, the Park County Attorney’s Office said his Toyota FJ Cruiser qualified as a weapon.)
The primary issue Hopkins’ court-appointed attorneys raised on appeal was whether the county attorney’s office had proven he had acted “knowingly.” The defense attorneys contended that, in order to win a conviction, prosecutors needed to show Hopkins “purposefully” hit the other vehicle.
“Mr. Hopkins reasoned that he could not have hit the victim’s vehicle on purpose because he was passed out when he veered into oncoming traffic and, further, that the incident was not foreseeable because he had never before lost consciousness while using inhalants,” Supreme Court Justice Lynne Boomgaarden summarized in Tuesday’s opinion.
However, she and the other four justices unanimously rejected those arguments, finding that Wyoming law does not require prosecutors to show someone committed aggravated assault and battery on purpose. Rather, Boomgaarden said the question for the jury was whether Hopkins acted “voluntarily.”
“Applying this reasoning, we have little trouble concluding that Mr. Hopkins knowingly caused bodily injury with a deadly weapon even though he was unconscious when he hit the victim’s vehicle,” Boomgaarden wrote. “Mr. Hopkins did not suffer an accidental loss of consciousness, as he had full knowledge of the effects inhalants have on the brain. … Despite such knowledge, Mr. Hopkins chose to huff and drive himself to work while under the influence of an inhalant.”
She said it was foreseeable that Hopkins could lose consciousness and lose control of his vehicle.
Hopkins, whose specialties included addiction psychiatry, has had a long history of struggles with alcohol and controlled substances. His medical license in New Hampshire was suspended in 2003 after he was caught writing himself prescriptions for Adderall and his license was suspended in Wyoming in 2011 after noncompliance with a recovery program for doctors.
He’d also been involved in a November 2016 fender-bender in Cody where alcohol was suspected. Hopkins was out on bond for that offense when he got into the head-on crash.
The psychiatrist testified at his trial that he’d been huffing compressed air in an effort to combat “the shakes” and anxiety that comes with alcohol withdrawal.
“Mr. Hopkins testified that he knew the effects inhalants have on the brain but inhaled the air duster anyway because he had the shakes,” Boomgaarden wrote. She also noted that Hopkins had driven his son to school after huffing canned air earlier that morning.
Hopkins voluntarily gave up his Wyoming medical license in December 2017 and went through multiple treatment programs while his case was pending.