Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court upheld a district judge's order allowing the Montana State Hospital (MSH) to involuntarily medicate Petitioner if he refused to take prescribed antipsychotic medication, holding that the district court did not err in finding that important governmental interests were at stake in this case and that involuntary medication was likely to render Petitioner competent to stand trial and was in Petitioner's best interest. Petitioner was charged with five felonies arising from an incident including the shooting death of a law enforcement officer. Petitioner was found mentally unfit to proceed to trial due to a mental disorder, and MSH proposed a treatment plan, including antipsychotic medication, to try to render Petitioner mentally fit to stand trial. Because Petitioner refused to take the medication the State requested the district court to take the medication or allow MSH to give him involuntary injections of the medication. The district court granted the State's motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the State met its burden of proving the relevant facts by clear and convincing evidence. View "Barrus v. Montana First Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court reversing an order entered by the municipal court granting Appellant's motion to suppress and dismiss, holding that the district court erred in determining that the police officer possessed particularized suspicion to stop Appellant's vehicle based solely on the discrepancy between the vehicle's color and the color listed on the registration. The officer in this case conducted a traffic stop to investigate the color discrepancy between the vehicle and that listed on the registration. Appellant was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. Appellant filed a motion to suppress and dismiss, arguing that the officer lacked particularized suspicion that Appellant was engaged in car theft or other criminal activity necessary to justify the vehicle stop. The municipal court granted the motion and dismissed the case with prejudice. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, standing alone, the color discrepancy between Appellant's vehicle and that listed on the vehicle's registration was too thin to constitute particularized suspicion. View "State v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to self-representation by refusing his request to represent himself at an omnibus hearing but otherwise allowing Defendant to represent himself for the duration of his case; and (2) correctly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant a new trial after the court considered the victim's post-trial recantations and the evidence of Defendant's guilt produced at trial. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of burglary, theft, and violating an order of protection, holding that Defendant waived his right to be present at all critical stages of his criminal proceedings and that the district court did not err in concluding that Defendant did not unequivocally assert his right to represent himself. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court denied his constitutional right to be present at a critical stage of his criminal proceedings when it held a hearing in his absence and without defense counsel and denied him the right to represent himself when he unequivocally waived his right to counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant voluntarily waived his right to be present at the hearing; and (2) substantial evidence existed to support the district court's determination that Defendant did not intend to represent himself, and therefore, the district court did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to do so. View "State v. Marquart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ordering restitution after convicting Defendant of embezzling money from her employer, holding that the district court did not violate Defendant's due process rights when it did not hold an evidentiary hearing before ordering her to pay restitution. The State charged Defendant with theft of property by embezzlement, alleging that Defendant stole more than $7,000 from her employer. The jury found Defendant guilty. The State sought restitution for the amount Defendant stole and for expenses her employer incurred investigating and assisting in the prosecution. The district court entered an order requiring Defendant to pay restitution. Defendant appealed, arguing that the court abused her due process rights by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to preserve a due process challenge to the lack of an evidentiary hearing. View "State v. Johns" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that Defendant did not meet his burden of establishing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant was found guilty of one count of sexual intercourse without consent and other sexual offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant then filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The district court determined that Appellant had received effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not carry his burden of establishing that the district court's findings were clearly erroneous and that his counsel's performance was unreasonable or deficient. View "Cheetham v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict and sentence of the district court convicting Defendant of two counts of robbery, one count of conspiracy to commit deceptive practices as part of a common scheme or plan, and one count of criminal possession of dangerous drugs, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence, and the court's admission of certain cell phone location records was harmless error. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not err when it denied Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence seized from his residence; (2) did not err when it denied Defendant's motion to suppress evidence found in Defendant's truck by law enforcement; (3) did not err when it denied Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence found in his truck by an auction lot employee after the truck was searched and released from law enforcement custody; and (4) erred in admitting records containing the location of Defendant's cell phone during the robberies, but the error was harmless. View "State v. Burchill" on Justia Law

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On appeal from a guilty plea to possessing 144 pounds of marijuana the Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court for recalculation of Defendant's fine, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional to the extent it does not allow the sentencing judge to consider whether the thirty-five percent market value fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. Section 45-9-130(1) requires a district court to impose a mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine in drug possession convictions. Pursuant to section 45-9-130(1), the district fined Defendant $75,600, which was thirty-five percent of the market value of the marijuana she was convicted of possessing. On appeal, Defendant argued that the mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine imposed in every drug possession conviction violated her constitutional right against excessive fines because the statute does require consideration of the offender's financial resources, the nature of the crime committed, and the nature of the burden the required fine would have on the offender. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that section 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional and that a sentencing judge may not impose the thirty-five percent market value fine without considering the factors in Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-231(3). View "State v. Yang" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the judgment of the municipal court denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence, holding that the municipal court erred when it determined that a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation existed at the completion of a community caretaker stop. Specifically, the Court held that the municipal court's determination that the police officer obtained a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation during the scope of his community caretaker stop of Defendant was clearly erroneous because the objective factors present at the completion of the community caretaker stop, in the absence of the additional indicators observed later, did not support an inference that Defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. Therefore, the Court reversed the municipal court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, vacated Defendant's conviction for misdemeanor DUI, and remanded the matter with instructions to dismiss the case with prejudice. View "State v. Metz" on Justia Law

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In this appeal challenging a criminal sentence the Supreme Court remanded for entry of an amended judgment, holding that Defendant was entitled to twenty-two days credit for twenty-two days he served in Silver Bow County. In 2016, Defendant pled guilty to possession of dangerous drugs in Deer Lodge County. Defendant served a total of sixty-one days in Deer Lodge County custody prior to his release. In 2017, Defendant was arrested for possession of dangerous drugs in Cascade County and, separately, was charged with forgery in Silver Bow County Justice Court. The Cascade County District Court sentenced Defendant on the possession of dangerous drugs charge and ordered his release. Defendant was then transferred to Silver Bow County. The district court imposed a five-year commitment on the possession of dangerous drugs charge. The court gave Defendant credit for the sixty-one days he was detained in the Deer Lodge County jail and denied his request for additional credit for time served while he was incarcerated in Cascade County and Silver Bow County. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding that Defendant should have been credited with twenty-two days served in Silver Bow County custody. View "State v. Parks" on Justia Law