Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court upholding the ruling of the municipal court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause the criminal trespass charge against him, holding that the municipal court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss. Defendant was convicted of criminal trespass to property for entering the fenced backyard of a residence during the night. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss. The district court affirmed, concluding that the residential backyard came within the definition of "premises" in the Criminal Code as "any type of structure or building and real property," which did not to be posted to deny a privilege to enter. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that there was no basis to conclude that the legislature intended to impose a requirement upon property owners in residential neighborhoods to post notice in order to deny or revoke a privilege to enter their property. View "City of Bozeman v. Lehrer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony DUI, disorderly conduct, and driving with a suspended license, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his unpreserved claim that the district court violated his fundamental right to be present when it discuss with counsel in his absence the potential substitution of an alternate juror. During trial, the trial was continued and the jury was excused. Several days later when the trial resumed a juror failed to appear. The court met with counsel to discuss the juror's absence, but counsel did not object to Defendant's absence. The court decided not to substitute an alternate juror, and the trial resumed that day after the juror arrived. The jury subsequently found Defendant guilty. On appeal, Defendant argued that by holding the conversations regarding the absent juror in his absence the district court violated his right to be present. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the violation of Defendant's right to be present did not result in a miscarriage of justice or call the fundamental fairness of his trial into question. View "State v. George" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), fourth offense, a felony under Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-401, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss. On appeal, Defendant argued that his Montana conviction for felony DUI was erroneous because it was based on previous DUI convictions from Alaska in 2003, 2007, 2009 under an Alaska statute that was dissimilar to Montana's DUI statute. Therefore, Defendant argued that the three prior Alaska DUI convictions did not qualify as predicate offenses for felony enhancement under Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-731(1). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the district court properly determined that Defendant's prior convictions under Alaska's DUI statute required a "similar" standard of impairment to Montana's DUI statute, and therefore, Defendant's three prior Alaska DUI convictions qualified as predicate offenses for enhancement purposes under Montana's felony DUI statute. View "State v. Lund" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict and subsequent judgment and sentence issued by the district court convicting Defendant of misdemeanor criminal trespass and felony criminal mischief resulting from Defendant unlawfully entering a pipeline facility and damaging the pipeline's property, holding that the district court did not err in its rulings. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err in denying Defendant's request to assert the common law defense of necessity or in refusing Defendant's necessity defense instructions because the common law defense of necessity was not available to Defendant under the circumstances of this case; (2) did not err in denying Defendant's motion for directed verdict as to the criminal mischief charge; and (3) did not err in ordering restitution in the amount of $3,755.47. View "State v. Higgins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of partner family member assault (PFMA), holding that Defendant's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) was not susceptible to review on direct appeal and that Defendant failed to establish that the district court allowed testimonial material into the jury room during deliberations. On appeal, Defendant argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to object to witnesses' and the State's references to his probation status and, further, referenced Defendant's probation status herself. Defendant also argued that the district court abused its discretion by sending testimonial materials into the jury room during deliberations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court will not address Defendant's IAC claim on direct appeal because the record was silent as to why defense counsel did not object to the probation references and testimony; and (2) the record did not establish that testimonial material was provided to the jury during its deliberations. View "State v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming a justice court verdict finding Appellant guilty of failure to obtain landowner permission for hunting, holding the district court correctly affirmed Appellant's conviction. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) under Mont. Code Ann. 87-6-415, the justice court and the district court did not err when they declined to adopt Appellant's argument that "hunting" and "taking or attempting to take" a game animal are separate, distinct actions that the State has the burden of proving; and (2) the justice court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to submit its jury instructions after the deadline. View "State v. Cherry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part Appellant's designation as a persistent felony offender (PFO) and corresponding enhanced sentence, holding that Appellant was improperly sentenced as a PFO. Because a fourth or subsequent driving under the influence (DUI) offense constitutes a felony under Montana law, the State charged Appellant's fourth and fifth DUI offenses, committed in 2015, as felonies. Before Appellant was convicted of either felony offense, the State gave notice of its intent to seek PFO designation for Appellant. In 2017, approximately two weeks after a new law took effect changing the definition of a PFO, Appellant pleaded guilty to both felony DUIs. Appellant argued that the 2015 PFO statute no longer applied and that he did not satisfy the requirements necessary to trigger PFO status under the new definition. The district court concluded that the 2015 PFO statute applied and designated Appellant a PFO. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) properly applied the 2015 version of the PFO statute at Appellant's sentencing hearing; but (2) erred in sentencing Appellant as a PFO because Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-501 expressly requires the existence of a felony conviction before the commission of the principal offense to effectuate a valid PFO designation. View "State v. Running Wolf" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court revoking Appellant's deferred sentence for criminal possession of illicit drugs, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it revoked Appellant's deferred sentence after he failed to report to his probation officer for three months. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Appellant absconded in violation of his probation conditions such that Defendant's probation officer was not required to exhaust Montana Incentives and Interventions Grid for Adult Probation & Parole procedures prior to initiating revocation proceedings against Appellant; (2) substantial evidence supported the district court's conclusion that Appellant failed to report for the purpose of avoiding supervision and that the probation office made reasonable efforts to contact Appellant; and (3) therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in revoking Appellant's deferred sentence. View "State v. Oropeza" on Justia Law

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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