Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court sentencing Defendant to the Montana State prison for thirty years with ten years suspended and ordering various probation conditions, holding that Defendant waived his right to challenge the constitutionality of a probation condition by failing previously to object. Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent. Included in Defendant’s probation conditions was condition forty-five, which barred him from possessing any device with photo, video, or Internet capabilities. Defendant did not object to the condition at or before sentencing. On appeal, Defendant argued that condition forty-five was an overly-broad restriction on his First Amendment freedom of speech. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant waived his right to appeal condition forty-five and that plain error review was not warranted in this case. View "State v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant to five years in the Montana State Prison, holding that Defendant’s attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel and that Defendant was prejudiced as a result. Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal possession of dangerous drugs, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, and obstructing a peace officer. The district court sentenced Defendant to five years in the Montana State Prison for criminal possession of dangerous drugs. On appeal, Defendant argued that his defense counsel’s failure to cite Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-202 and its application in State v. Brendal, 213 P.3d 448 (Mont. 2009), amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel that prejudiced the result of his sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Defendant’s attorney provided ineffective assistance by filing to cite section 45-9-202 and Brendal, resulting in prejudice to Defendant. The Court remanded the cause for resentencing. View "State v. Walter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of speeding, holding that the State’s comment to the jury that Defendant had already been convicted of the charge in the justice court required reversal. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of speeding, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-303(1)(b). On appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err when it did not dismiss the case for lack of particularized suspicion and for lack of corroborating evidence; (2) Defendant was entitled to a new trial because the State’s comment that Defendant was previously convicted of speeding presented prejudicial facts not before the jury’s consideration and implicated the fundamental fairness of the proceedings; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it did not allow Defendant to argue his theory of law to the jury that multiple witnesses are required for a conviction. View "State v. French" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court revoking a deferred sentence for failure to pay restitution, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) substantial evidence supported the district court’s finding that Defendant did not make good faith efforts to pay his restitution and supervision fees; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in revoking Defendant’s deferred sentence and imposing a new sentence; (3) revocation did not violate the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment because Defendant did not make good faith effort to pay his restitution; and (4) Defendant’s obligation to pay restitution was not a fine within the purview of the Excessive Fines Clause of Mont. Const. art. II, 22 because it was remedial in nature. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence gathered from a vehicle after a traffic stop, holding that sufficient evidence did not exist for an extended stop. Defendant was charged with drug-related offenses. Defendant filed motion to suppress evidence obtained after a traffic stop. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the police officer had sufficient facts to expand the traffic stop into a drug investigation and particularized suspicion to justify a canine search of the vehicle’s exterior. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the officer lacked the particularized suspicion required to extend the traffic stop into a drug investigation, and the stop violated Mont. Code Ann. 46-5-403; and (2) the extension of the stop to request a search by a K-9 unit violated the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of sexual intercourse without consent, entered after a bench trial, holding that the district court did not violate Defendant’s right to present a full defense when it did not affirmatively offer Defendant the opportunity to make a closing argument in the bench trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that because he was not allowed to make a closing argument he was denied his right to assistance of counsel and full presentation of his defense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that by failing to request the opportunity to make a closing argument, Defendant waived his right to present a closing argument. View "State v. Chaplin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of operating a noncommercial vehicle with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, a “DUI per se,” holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by giving a “Norquay instruction” to the jury. Although Defendant did not directly attack the Norquay instruction given by the district court, he described it as a tactic to “try to force a verdict from a potentially deadlocked jury,” comparing it to disapproved jury directives used in cases such as Jenkins v. United States, 380 U.S. 445, 446 (1965), and suggested that the court acted too hastily in giving the instruction. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the instruction complied with Montana law; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in the timing of its giving of the Norquay instruction. View "State v. Sweet" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions but remanded to the district court with instructions to strike one of the information technology fees imposed in Defendant’s sentence, holding that the district court improperly imposed multiple court information technology fees but otherwise did not err. Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of felony assault with a weapon in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 45-5-213 and received concurrent forty-year prison sentences. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and remanded in part, holding (1) Defendant’s right to a speedy trial was not violated; (2) the district court did not deny Defendant due process of law during sentencing when it admitted a jailhouse informant letter into evidence or by basing its sentencing decision on any improper information; and (3) the district court improperly imposed two court information technology user surcharges in Defendant’s sentence. View "State v. Snider" on Justia Law

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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