Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denial of Appellant's petition for postconviction relief and the court's order granting partial summary judgment in favor of the State, holding that the district court did not err. Defendant was convicted of vehicular homicide while under the influence, failure to stop immediately at the scene of an accident involving an injured person, and driving without a valid driver's license. Defendant later filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC), Brady violations, and newly discovered evidence of her innocence. The district court granted summary judgment on Defendant's newly discovered evidence claims and Brady claim and then denied the remainder of the claims after a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by (1) denying Defendant's postconviction petition based on her claim of ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) concluding that the State did not violate Defendant's due process rights by failing to disclose certain non-exculpatory photographs; and (3) dismissing Defendant's newly discovered evidence claim. View "Garding v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction and sentence for burglary, holding that the district court erred by requiring Defendant to pay restitution for pecuniary losses resulting from offenses committed by others absent evidence of criminal accountability or a causal connection between Defendant's offense and those losses. Defendant was one of several persons involved in multiple burglaries of the main house, garage, and separate guest house owned by Elden and Betty White. Defendant pled guilty to burgling the guest house. The district court concluded that Defendant should be jointly and severally responsible with his associates for the entire amount of pecuniary loss of $43,294 sustained by the Whites as a result of the burglaries. The Supreme Court reversed the restitution order, holding that where there was no record evidence that Defendant's admitted commission of the guest house burglary directly caused any pecuniary loss resulting from any burglary of the main house or garage by others, the district court erred by ordering Defendant to pay restitution for pecuniary losses sustained by the Whites as a result of the burglaries of their main house. View "State v. Pierre" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the sentencing order and judgment issued by the district court following Defendant's conviction of assault on a peace officer, a felony, holding that Defendant did not use a "weapon" pursuant to Montana law and thus could not be convicted for a violation of Mont. Code Ann. 45-5-210(1)(b). The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of assault on a peace officer, a felony, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 45-5-210(1)(b), holding that there was insufficient evidence to convicted Defendant of assault on a peace officer. On appeal, Defendant argued that the State did not present sufficient evidence to convict him because he did not use a weapon during the incident. Rather, Defendant used a "nonfunctioning CO2 pellet gun." The Supreme Court agreed with Defendant, holding that the non-operational BB gun did not qualify as a "weapon" under the facts of this case. View "State v. Stillsmoking" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court revoking the suspended portion of Defendant's sentence for failing to complete sex offender treatment while in prison, holding that because there was no requirement that Defendant complete sex offender treatment prior to his release on probation the district court lacked the authority to revoke Defendant's sentence. The district court revoked Defendant's sentence after finding that Defendant had not completed sex offender treatment. The court then imposed a six-year Department of Corrections commitment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the treatment condition of Defendant's suspended sentence did not specify when treatment was to be completed, the district court lacked authority to revoke Defendant's sentence and impose a new sentence on the basis that Defendant had refused treatment while in custody. View "State v. Beam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, holding that, despite the Montana Legislature's later repeal of the Boot Camp Incarceration Program, Defendant's plea was voluntary at the time of sentencing. Defendant pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and sexual intercourse without consent. In exchange for Defendant's plea, the State agreed to recommend placement in the boot camp program. The court sentenced Defendant to a term of imprisonment and recommended that Defendant be placed in the boot camp program upon completion of the first four years of his sentence. The Legislature later repealed the statutes authorizing the boot camp program. Defendant filed a motion to withdraw guilty plea based on the repeal of the boot camp program. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Legislature's repeal of the boot camp program did not retroactively render Defendant's plea involuntary or constitute good cause for withdrawal; (2) Defendant's plea was voluntary, and the State fulfilled its obligations under the plea agreement despite the Legislature's repeal of the boot camp program; and (3) the repeal of the boot camp program did not constitute an ex post facto law. View "State v. Newbary" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for attempted deliberate homicide and evidence tampering, both felonies, holding that the district court did not commit plain error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not commit plain error by not intervening sua sponte to limit or cure the State's closing argument that Defendant's failure to retreat or summon police prior to using deadly force was unreasonable; (2) the district court did not commit plain error by not intervening sua sponte to limit or cure the State's closing and rebuttal argument references to Defendant's post-Miranda silence; and (3) the State's closing argument regarding an alternative factual basis for the evidence tampering charge did not effect an improper de facto amendment of the substance of the charging information. View "State v. Trujillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for criminal possession of dangerous drugs, a felony, holding that the district court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search. On appeal, Defendant conceded that probable cause existed for law enforcement's entry into his hotel room but argued that the agents' warrantless entry was not justified because no exigent circumstances existed. The district court relied on specific and articulable facts from the agents that prompt action was necessary to prevent the probable destruction of drug evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in determining that exigent circumstances existed justifying the agents' warrantless entry into Defendant's hotel rooms. View "State v. Vegas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for sexual assault, holding that the municipal court erred when it instructed the jury on a definition of "consent" from the 2017 sexual assault statute and not the applicable 2015 statute, and the erroneous jury instruction prejudicially affected Defendant's substantial rights. At trial, the court instructed the jury, over Defendant's objection, on the definition of consent contained in recent amendments to the sexual assault statute. On appeal, Defendant argued that the municipal court failed to apply the correct law when instructing the jury on the elements of the claimed offense. The district court denied the appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the instructions, as a whole, did not fully and fairly instruct the jury on the law applicable to the case; and (2) Defendant's substantial due process right was prejudiced by the erroneous jury instruction. View "City of Missoula v. Zerbst" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's drug-related convictions, holding that the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence regarding Defendant's prior DUI convictions, and the error was not harmless. Defendant was convicted of criminal possession of dangerous drugs, methamphetamine, a felony; criminal possession of dangerous drugs, marijuana, a misdemeanor; and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the district court erred in allowing testimony concerning her prior DUI convictions. The Supreme Court reversed the convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that because the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, the evidence was inadmissible under Mont. R. Evid. 403. View "State v. Clausen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's request for credit for time served while he was released on bail during the pendency of his probation revocation proceeding, holding that a district court did not abuse its discretion in denying credit for "street time" served under the sentence. Defendant was sentenced for two counts of felony partner or family member assault. Later, the district court found that Defendant had violated the terms of his suspended sentence. Defendant requested that the district court grant him credit against his sentence under Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-203(7)(b) for four months of "street time" he had served on his sentence between his release on bond and sentencing. The district court denied the request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by denying street time credit because there was evidence in the record that Defendant committed a violation of his sentence during the relevant period. View "State v. Jardee" on Justia Law