Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting Defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea of guilty to one count of felony sexual assault. After entering his guilty plea, Defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea and rescind the plea agreement. The district court granted the motion, concluding that Defendant had established good cause to withdraw his plea. The court based its decision primarily on its conclusion that defense counsel had rendered ineffective assistance of counsel and on the threatening atmosphere surrounding the proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the State was authorized to appeal the district court’s order granting Defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea; and (2) the district court did not err by determining that good cause existed to permit Defendant to withdraw his guilty plea. View "State v. Terronez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court rejecting a reoffered plea agreement between the State and Appellant and leaving Appellant’s conviction undisturbed, despite a federal district court’s direction that the State reoffer Appellant an originally un-communicated and favorable plea proposal. Appellant was convicted of aggravated kidnapping and other crimes. Appellant later applied for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) because his counsel failed to communicate a plea offer to him. The federal district court granted Appellant’s petition relating to his IAC claim and remanded the case. In accordance with the court’s directions, the State reoffered Appellant an equivalent plea. The district court rejected the reoffered plea agreement because Appellant was unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions at the time the plea offer was made. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the reoffered plea agreement; and (2) did not err by not allowing Appellant to withdraw his guilty plea after it rejected the reoffered plea agreement. View "State v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded no contest to felony criminal endangerment under Mont. Code Ann. 45-5-207. The district court imposed a ten-year sentence to the Department of Corrections, with five years suspended. Defendant appealed, asserting claims of judicial bias and ineffective assistance of counsel. At no time during the proceedings did Defendant state a claim of judicial bias against the district court. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this court declines to undertake consideration of the merits of Defendant’s bias allegation pursuant to the plain error doctrine; and (2) Defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was not reviewable on direct appeal. View "State v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of criminal endangerment. On appeal, Defendant asserted judicial bias and argued that his appointed counsel violated their duty of loyalty. The Supreme Court held (1) this court declines to undertake consideration of the merits of Defendant’s bias allegation pursuant to the plain error doctrine because Defendant’s assertion of bias did not implicate a fundamental right or convince the court that failure to review the claim would result in a manifest miscarriage of justice, leave unsettled the question of the fundamental fairness of the trial proceedings, or compromise the integrity of the judicial process; and (2) Defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims were not reviewable on direct appeal because they were not factually established in the record. View "State v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in dismissing Defendant’s motion to dismiss the State’s petition to revoke her suspended sentence on the ground that there had been a four-year delay in executing the arrest warrant. In 2009, the district court issued a “Montana only” warrant for the arrest of Defendant, who was on probation. Thereafter, Defendant was convicted of another offense in Colorado, where, several times, Defendant was paroled and then her sentence was revoked. Defendant discharged her Colorado sentences in 2013. That same year, Defendant was arrested on the 2009 warrant. Defendant moved to dismiss the petition to revoke her suspended sentence, arguing that the State violated her right to due process by failing to bring her to court without unnecessary delay. The district court concluded that Defendant had not suffered a deprivation of due process and then determined that Defendant had violated the terms of her original sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the revocation petition. View "State v. Koon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court affirming the municipal court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress blood evidence in a driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) proceeding against him, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress a telephonic search warrant issued pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-402(5) to draw Defendant’s blood; and (2) this court declines to address Defendant’s argument that the warrant was invalid because Defendant did not receive the implied consent advisory prior to his blood draw. View "City of Missoula v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the sentence imposed upon Defendant following his plea of no contest to sexual assault, holding that the district court erred in accepting Defendant’s no contest plea, and therefore, the district court could not have imposed a valid sentence upon Defendant. The district court erred in accepting Defendant’s no contest plea because generally, a court may not accept a plea of nolo contendere in a case involving a sexual offense, and the term sexual offense is statutorily defined to include sexual assault. The Supreme Court voided the plea agreement and remanded the matter to the district court to allow Defendant to enter a legal plea to the original charges, enter a new plea agreement, or to proceed to trial. View "State v. Hansen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s two motions to dismiss the charges against him for sexual abuse of children. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse of children. Defendant reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his two motions to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly found that there was sufficient evidence that a rational jury could have found Defendant guilty of sexual abuse of children because he knowingly possessed child pornography; and (2) Montana’s statutory definition of possession under Mont. Code Ann. 45-2-101(59) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Defendant’s conduct. View "State v. Harrington" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s determination that Defendant, who pled guilty to deliberate homicide, was competent to stand trial and that, at the time of the offense, Defendant was able to appreciate his behavior and conform to the requirements of the law. The court held (1) the district court did not err when it found that Defendant was competent to stand trial and was competent when he entered his guilty plea; (2) the district court did not err when it found that, at the time of the offense, Defendant was able to appreciate his behavior and conform his conduct to the requirements of the law; and (3) sentencing Defendant to prison did not violate his constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishments and to human dignity. View "State v. Spell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the municipal court’s order denying Petitioner’s motion to dismiss the charge against him, holding that the municipal court abused its discretion in declaring a mistrial and in concluding that double jeopardy did not bar Petitioner’s retrial. Petitioner was charged with partner or family member assault (PFMA). The City of Billings moved for a mistrial, and the trial judge declared a mistrial based on the purportedly inconsistent testimony of a City’s witness. The judge then rescheduled Petitioner’s trial. Petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the PFMA on double jeopardy grounds. The municipal court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was no manifest necessity to discontinue the trial, and Petitioner’s conduct did not demonstrate a waiver of his right to object to termination of the proceedings and to a retrial; and (2) therefore, retrying Petitioner for the PFMA charge would violate his federal and state fundamental constitutional rights to be free from double jeopardy. View "Billings ex rel. Huertas v. Billing" on Justia Law