Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of criminal endangerment, holding that the court abused its discretion when it allowed evidence of Defendant's prior criminal endangerment conviction. Defendant was convicted of criminal endangerment after he purchased a half-gallon of eighty-proof whiskey for a teenager who drank it and suffered near-fatal consequences. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction and remanded the case, holding (1) given the circumstances, a rational jury could have concluded from the evidence that Defendant actually knew there was a substantial risk associated with purchasing a half-gallon of whiskey for a teenager; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in allowing evidence of Defendant's prior criminal endangerment conviction, and Defendant was entitled to a new trial. View "State v. Fleming" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that Appellant failed to prove a set of facts in support of his claim. While detained in jail, Appellant filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus requesting that the district court drop all felony criminal convictions against him on the alleged grounds that the State had no jurisdiction because Appellant was an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenani Tribes (CSKT) and committed a crime within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim. On appeal, Appellant argued that the application of Public Law 83-230 (PL-280) by the State was improper and has never been consented to by the CSKT. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant's argument that PL-280 was never properly consented to by the CSKT is incorrect; (2) the State properly enacted its enabling legislation under PL-280; and (3) PL-280 and the State's application of PL-280 to the CSKT did not violate the 1855 Hellgate Treaty. View "Lozeau v. Anciaux" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of incest, holding that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the jury to hear during deliberations portions of a victim's taped forensic interview after those portions of the interview had been played to the jury during trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred when it played portions of the victim's forensic interview two times to the jury - at trial and during jury deliberations. Specifically, Defendant argued that the court erred when it allowed the jury to hear the interview without first isolating the jury's difficulty concerning the evidence. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the district court abused its discretion by failing to isolate the jury's difficulty during deliberations before allowing the jury to watched portions of the video testimony in the jury room and that the error resulted in prejudice to Defendant. View "State v. Hayes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court finding Defendant guilty of felony sexual assault, holding that counsel was ineffective when he failed to object to an instruction that a person under the age of sixteen is incapable of consent as a matter of law because the age of consent for sexual assault is fourteen years old. During trial, the court instructed the jury, without differentiating between the charged offenses of sexual intercourse without consent and sexual assault, that a person under the age of sixteen is incapable of consent as a matter of law. The victim in this case was fourteen years old at the time of the alleged offense. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that the instruction allowed the jury to convict Defendant solely on evidence of the victim's age, and had trial counsel offered and argued a separate sexual assault "without consent" instruction, the result may have been different. View "State v. Resh" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for attempted deliberate homicide, aggravated burglary, and tampering with or fabricating evidence, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant did not meet his burden to convince the Court that it was necessary to review the district court's note on the verdict form regarding alternative lesser included offenses under the plain error doctrine; (2) there was sufficient evidence to convict Defendant of tampering with or fabricating evidence; and (3) Defendant was not denied effective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Daniels" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court convicting and sentencing Defendant for felony sexual assault without consent, holding that the district court abused its discretion by not continuing the sentencing hearing. The district court was presented with Defendant's unopposed motion to continue the sentencing hearing to accommodate the schedule of a key, and only, witness. The district court denied the motion, noting only that the motion was Defendant's fourth motion to continue the sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing, holding that Defendant's request for a continuance was reasonable under the circumstances, and therefore, the district court abused its discretion by acting arbitrarily in not granting Defendant's unopposed motion to continue the sentencing hearing. View "State v. Webber" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying the petition filed by the Department of Public Health and Human Services to modify Kevin Capser's sentence, holding that the court's decision to deny the petition was an abuse of discretion. Capser, who suffered from schizophrenia, shot and killed his father. Capser was found guilty of deliberate homicide but that he suffered from a mental disease or disorder that rendered him unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior or to conform his behavior to the requirements of the law. Capser was Department of Public Health and Human Services for one hundred years with thirty years suspended, with an additional ten years for the use of a weapon. The forensic review board later concluded that Capser no longer represented a substantial risk of harm to himself or others. The Department then filed a petition for review of sentence. The district court denied the petition, concluding that Capser remained a danger to himself and others. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court's decision was based on a generalized apprehension that something unfortunate might occur in the future, and therefore, the denial of the petition was not within the court's discretion. View "In re DPHHS Petition Concerning Kevin J. Capser" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming the municipal court's judgments of conviction on jury trial of misdemeanor criminal trespass, assault, resisting arrest, and obstructing a peace officer, holding that the municipal court's evidentiary rulings challenged on appeal were without error. On appeal, Defendant argued (1) the municipal court erred in subjecting his asserted "substantial need" for the arresting officers' personnel files under Mont. Code Ann. 46-15-322(5) to balancing with their constitutional right to privacy, (2) the municipal court erred in excluding examining physician testimony regarding the nature and extent of injuries sustained by Defendant incident to arrest, and (3) insufficient evidence supported his obstructing a peace officer conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the municipal court correctly denied Defendant's request for discovery of the arresting officers' pre-incident personnel records; (2) the municipal court did not err in excluding Defendant's proffered physician testimony; and (3) the Court declines to review the sufficiency of the evidence for plain error. View "City of Bozeman v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding Defendant guilty of deliberate homicide, holding that Defendant was not entitled to his relief on his argument that defense counsel was ineffective. On appeal, Defendant argued that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by objecting to a jury instruction that accomplice testimony must be viewed with distrust and must be corroborated. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record was not sufficiently developed to determine whether Defendant's objection was a reasonable tactical decision. Consequently, the Court concluded that Defendant must pursue his ineffective assistance of counsel claim in a properly presented petition for postconviction relief. View "State v. Wittal" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court on remand issuing financial sanctions against the State for discovery abuse and denying Appellant's request for a new trial, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion with its chosen sanction for the State's discovery abuse. During his criminal trial, Defendant moved for a mistrial as a sanction for the State's failure to provide a certain video. The district court denied the motion, ruling that the State did not have to produce the video. The jury found Defendant guilty of assault with a weapon and driving while license suspended or revoked. On appeal, the State conceded that it wrongfully withheld the video from Defendant. The Supreme Court remanded to the district court to determine the appropriate sanction. On remand, the district court found that Defendant was not prejudiced by the State's discovery abuse and that no new trial was warranted. The court then issued a financial sanction against the State. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying a new trial due to a lack of prejudice and issue financial sanctions against the State. View "State v. Pope" on Justia Law