Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Plaintiff's motion to suppress evidence that was obtained when a highway patrol trooper, after noticing Plaintiff's vehicle parked on the side of the road, stopped to see if Plaintiff needed assistance, holding that the district court did not err when it denied Plaintiff's motion to suppress. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the test set forth in State v. Lovegren, 51 P.3d 471 (Mont. 2002), to ensure that application of the community caretaker doctrine comports with constitutional protections was not met in this case. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the contact began as a welfare check, which met the first prong of the Lovegren test. The contact then shifted to a criminal investigation supported by particularized suspicion only after additional information became available to the trooper. View "State v. Grmoljez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant's petition for post conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing, holding that the district court correctly determined that Appellant's petition for post conviction relief was time barred under Mont. Code Ann. 46-21-102(1) and (2). Appellant pleaded guilty to felony partner or family member assault and was required to register as a violent offender. Appellant later entered a plea of nolo contenders to the charge of failure to register as a violent offender. Appellant's appeal was dismissed when the appeal was deemed frivolous. Appellant then filed his petition for post conviction relief. The district court summarily dismissed the petition, concluding that Appellant's claims were time barred and finding no equitable grounds to extend the deadline. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's petition fell outside the one-year deadline set forth in section 46-21-102(1) and that the evidence did not fall under the newly discovered evidence exception delineated in section 46-21-102(2). View "Mascarena v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus asserting that he was entitled to relief because he entered an "Alford plea" to sexual assault and solicitation for sexual assault in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 46-12-204(4), holding that, under Montana law, an Alford plea is not synonymous to a nolo contendere plea, which, under section 46-12-204(4), a court may not accept in a case involving a sexual offense. Petitioner pleaded guilty to two sexual offenses pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 (1970). In his habeas petition Petitioner argued that his guilty pleas violated Mont. Code Ann. 46-12-204(4), which provides that a court may not accept a plea of nolo contendere in a case involving a sexual offense. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Petitioner's Alford pleas were guilty pleas, not nolo contendere pleas, and therefore, section 46-12-204(4) did not prohibit the district court from accepting the Alford pleas to the sexual offenses. View "Lawrence v. Salmonsen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction on the misdemeanor offenses of negligent endangerment and reckless driving in the municipal court, holding that the municipal court erred in refusing to instruct the jury and allow evidence and argument on the authority of private citizens to make a citizen’s arrest as a factual consideration in determining whether Defendant committed the charged offenses as alleged. Defendant was prosecuted after he pulled his pickup and towed boat across a main thoroughfare in the City of Helena to block the escape of a motorcyclist fleeing from pursuing police in a high-speed chase through the City. At Defendant’s ensuing jury trial, the municipal court precluded him from presenting evidence and argument that he acted reasonably under the circumstances to assist police in apprehending the fleeing motorcyclist as authorized by Mont. Code Ann. 46-6-501, which establishes citizen arrest authority. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the municipal court erroneously precluded the evidence, jury instruction, and argument on Defendant’s asserted statutory authority and intent to make a citizen’s arrest because these were factual considerations materially relevant on the record to whether Defendant acted in negligent, willful, or wanton disregard for the safety of others beyond a reasonable doubt. View "City of Helena v. Parsons" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of two counts of criminal endangerment, one count of driving under the influence of alcohol, and one count of open container violation, holding that the district court did not err in refusing to give Defendant’s proposed jury instruction. During trial, Defendant proposed jury instructions on the lesser included offense of negligent endangerment. The district court declined to give the proposed instruction, concluding that the evidence did not support a finding that Defendant did not act knowingly. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give Defendant’s proposed jury instruction. View "State v. Jensen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court imposing a two-year suspended sentence in connection with Defendant’s conviction, holding that the district court correctly determined that Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-201(1)(b) barred it from deferring Defendant’s sentence. In 2017, Defendant pleaded guilty to felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The State and Defendant agreed to jointly recommend a two-year deferred sentence if Defendant was eligible and, if he was not eligible, a two-year suspended sentence. At issue was whether Defendant’s previous conviction in Arizona was a felony under Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-201(1)(b), which provides that a court may not defer an offender’s sentence in a felony case if she was previously convicted of a felony. The district court ultimately concluded that Defendant’s Arizona conviction was a felony that barred her from receiving a deferred sentence and, accordingly, imposed a two-year suspended sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined that section 46-18-201(1)(b) barred it from deferring Defendant’s sentence. View "State v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of offense of partner or family member assault, holding that the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to excuse a prospective juror for cause. In this case, a prospective juror spontaneously asserted that she would have a “hard time,” a personal “problem,” and a “real problem” with requiring the State to prove an essential element of the charged offense. The Supreme Court held that where the prospective juror’s multiple spontaneous statements were consistent, clear, unequivocal, and emphatic and where the record unequivocally manifested the juror’s bias, the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to disqualify the prospective juror for cause. Further, the error was structural, requiring automatic reversal. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court upholding the denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss her driving under the influence (DUI) charge, holding that Montana’s statutory protections against double jeopardy did not bar Defendant’s charge. In 2016, Defendant pleaded guilty to careless driving. After reviewing Defendant’s toxicology report, the Helena Attorney’s Office additionally charged Defendant with DUI. Defendant moved to dismiss her DUI charge as a subsequent prosecution barred by Mont. Code Ann. 46-11-504(1). The municipal court denied the motion to dismiss. The district court upheld the denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss. Thereafter, Defendant pleaded guilty to negligent endangerment pursuant to a plea agreement, preserving her right to appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mont. Code Ann. 46-11-503 applied in this case; but (2) because no probable cause existed to charge Defendant with DUI before resolution of her careless driving charge, section 46-11-503 did not bar the subsequent DUI charge from prosecution. View "City of Helena v. O'Connell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of three felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, five felony counts of cruelty to animals, and a misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals, holding that the district court did not err in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not err by denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained in warrantless searches of her commercial kennel property; (2) did not err by denying Defendant’s Batson challenge; and (3) did not err in imposing the costs to be reimbursed by Defendant under Mont. Code Ann. 45-8-211(3). View "State v. Warren" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court designating Defendant a repeat persistent felony offender (PFO) and sentencing him as a repeat PFO under Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-502(2), holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Defendant pled guilty to robbery by accountability and assault with a weapon. The district court concluded that, based on Defendant’s prior felony convictions and PFO designation, it had no choice but to sentence him under section 46-18-502(2) to a minimum of ten years incarceration on both the robbery by accountability and assault charges and that the sentence must run consecutively to a three-year suspended sentence for Defendant’s probation violation in a separate case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it sentenced Defendant as a repeat PFO under section 46-18-502(2). View "State v. Martin" on Justia Law