Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part Defendant’s convictions of two counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and one count of impersonation of a public servant, holding that Defendant was improperly convicted of two offenses arising out of the same transaction. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction for the second count of tampering with or fabricating evidence, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence related to Defendant’s prior acts; (2) Defendant’s counsel provided deficient representation for failing to object to Defendant’s convictions under the multiple conviction statute, Mont. Code Ann. 46-11-410, and the error prejudiced Defendant; and (3) the district court erred by imposing a “per count” surcharge for count information technology under Mont. Code Ann. 3-1-317(1)(a). View "State v. Ellison" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s judgment of conviction of felony theft and misdemeanor theft, as defined by Mont. Code Ann. 45-6-301(1), holding that the district court erred in allowing the State to present inadmissible expert legal opinion testimony but that the error was harmless. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court (1) erroneously denied his pretrial and post-verdict motions to dismiss based on the principle that a claim of right precludes a purposeful deprivation of property under the statute, (2) erroneously failed to instruct the jury on the claim-of-right defense, and (3) erroneously allowed the state to present expert testimony on matters of law. Regarding Defendant’s first two assignments of error, the Supreme Court held that the district court committed no error. And although the district court erroneously admitted inadmissible expert legal opinion testimony, the Supreme Court held that the error was harmless under the circumstances of this case. View "State v. Mills" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant to 100 years imprisonment with seventy-five years suspended and twenty-five years of parole ineligibility on each count of two counts of incest but reversed and remanded for the district court to correct the written judgment to indicate that the sentences will run concurrently. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant waived his statutory vagueness claims by failing to raise them before trial; (2) Defendant’s sentence was not illegal, and the district court’s underlying factual findings supporting the sentence and its decision not to apply an exception were not clearly erroneous; and (3) the district court erred when it issued a written judgment that conflicted with its oral pronouncement of the sentence. View "State v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision sentencing Defendant to the Montana State Prison (MSP) instead of committing him into the custody of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS), holding that the court’s decision was supported by the record. Defendant entered an Alford plea to the charge of deliberate homicide. During sentencing, Defendant argued that he should be sentenced to DPHHS custody rather than to MSP because he allegedly suffered from a mental disease, defect, or development disability that rendered him unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior or to conform his behavior to the requirements of law. The district court disagreed and sentenced Defendant to life in prison. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the sentence of life imprisonment was not imposed in error and was supported by the record. View "State v. Coburn" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction of three counts of child sexual assault. The Montana Supreme Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by partially denying defendant's pretrial motion in limine to exclude evidence of prior bad acts; the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence about defendant's ability to see; but the district court did err by imposing $9,181.45 in prosecution and jury costs as well as a $30 technology fee for each convicted count. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "State v. Frey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for deliberate homicide, holding that the district court violated Defendant’s right to be present but that Defendant failed to demonstrate that the error was prejudicial. On appeal, Defendant argued that he was not included in several sidebars and in-chambers discussions during his trial and that his right of presence was violated twenty-three times. The Supreme Court held (1) the record supported Defendant’s assertion that he was not present in eight instances, but Defendant did not establish plain error in his exclusion from conferences; (2) because the burden was on Defendant to ensure the preservation of an adequate record for appeal, the district court did not err by failing to make a record of the various conferences that occurred during Defendant’s trial; (3) Defendant failed to rebut the State’s position that a violation of the public’s right to know cannot serve as a basis for overturning a criminal conviction; (4) the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing two of the State’s law enforcement witnesses to testify multiple times on direct examination; and (5) cumulative error did not warrant a new trial. View "State v. Hatfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court affirming the order of the Missoula Municipal Court’s denying Defendant’s motion to strike a twenty-five-dollar surcharge to fund the city attorney’s office after she pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct, holding that the Municipal Court exceeded its statutory authority by imposing the surcharge. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that because the Municipal Court’s written sentencing order included a surcharge that imposed a greater burden on Appellant than what Montana statutes allow for an offense made criminal by state law, the surcharge portion of the sentence was illegal. The Supreme Court remanded the matter with instructions that the Municipal Court strike the surcharge. View "City of Missoula v. Franklin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of stalking Thresa Goldberg and sentencing Defendant to five years in prison with two years suspended but instructed the court to correct its written judgment regarding the amount of restitution to be paid by Defendant. A jury convicted Defendant of stalking and the district court sentenced Defendant to a term of imprisonment and $42,798.90 in restitution. The Supreme Court held (1) although Defendant could not see Goldberg during her testimony, Defendant’s trial satisfied the elements of confrontation and did not violate his rights under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Mont. Const. art. II, 24; and (2) the district court’s written judgment requiring Defendant to pay $47,798.90 in restitution was incorrect and should be corrected to match the amount of $42,262.06 in restitution included in the restitution order. View "State v. Weik" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for felony possession of methamphetamine and misdemeanor possession of marijuana possession but reversed his sentence, holding that trial counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced Defendant during sentencing. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant’s contention that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file a motion to suppress evidence found during a search incident to arrest because Defendant’s initial arrest was illegal was not reviewable on direct appeal; (2) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by incorrectly advising the district court that it had no authority to suspend or defer Defendant’s sentence; and (3) the district court improperly imposed multiple court information technology user surcharges in Defendant’s sentence. The Court remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. View "State v. Larsen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment and sentence of the district court convicting Defendant of three counts of felony assault with a weapon and two counts of felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs and sentencing him to thirty years’ imprisonment, holding that the district court violated Defendant’s right to avoid double jeopardy. The drug possession charges for which Defendant was convicted involved possession of methamphetamine and possession of Lorazepam. During trial and after the State rested, the district court dismissed the Lorazepam charge. The jury found Defendant guilty of all charges, including possession of Lorazepam. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded for dismissal of the Lorazepam drug possession drug and vacation of the sentence imposed thereon, holding (1) Defendant’s right to be free of double jeopardy was violated because he was convicted of an offense of which he had already been acquitted; (2) the district court did not err in maintaining Defendant’s appointed legal counsel to represent him; and (3) the specified conditions and surcharges of the judgement must be stricken and amended to conform the written judgment with the court’s oral pronouncement and Montana law. View "State v. Barrows" on Justia Law