Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for felony driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), holding that there was no harmless error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not violate Defendant's right to equal protection by denying his Batson objection to the State's peremptory strike of the only racial minority member of the venire; (2) while one of the prosecutor's remarks during closing argument was erroneous, the prosecutor's remarks, considered cumulatively, did not violate Defendant's right to a fair trial; and (3) the district court did not err when it relied on one of Defendant's prior convictions to support enhancement of his DUI conviction to a felony offense and in determining that the prior conviction was constitutionally valid. View "State v. Wellknown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions for felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs and misdemeanor criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, holding that the district court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized after a vehicle search that resulted from an unlawfully prolonged investigative driving under the influence (DUI) stop. The district court denied the motion to suppress on the ground that the initial stop of Defendant was lawful based on a reasonable particularized suspicion of DUI. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) while Defendant was lawfully stopped on a reasonable particularized suspicion of DUI, the officers unlawfully prolonged the duration of the stop before subjecting Defendant to the confirmatory DUI field sobriety testing; and (2) therefore, the district court erroneously denied Defendant's motion to suppress. View "State v. Zeimer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of assault with a weapon, a felony, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and sentencing him to a nine-year prison term, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the State's peremptory strike of the only non-white member of the jury venire was not plain error under the three-prong equal protection analysis set forth by Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); (2) Defendant failed to establish plain error as to his arguments regarding various unpreserved assertions of error regarding the prosecutor’s closing argument and rebuttal comments; and (3) defense counsel's withdrawal of the Batson challenge and failure to object to certain statements by the prosecutor did not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that Defendant's two North Dakota convictions were sufficiently similar to constitute prior convictions under Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-734(1)(a).The State charged Defendant with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), fourth or subsequent offense. On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to dismiss, arguing that his prior convictions in North Dakota and Wyoming could not serve as predicate offenses for the enhancement of his DUI charge because the statutes of the two states were dissimilar to Montana's statute. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it held that North Carolina's DUI statute was a similar statute under section 61-8-734(1)(a). View "State v. Pankhurst" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court, holding that the proceedings must be remanded for Defendant to receive credit for time served.Defendant was convicted and sentenced for criminal endangerment and was sentenced to a five-year suspended sentence. After Defendant committed several probation violations, the district court revoked his suspended sentence and imposed a new sentence. The order denied Defendant's request that he be credited for a sixty-day period that he served as a sanction at the Sanction, Treatment, Assessment, Revocation, and Transition (START) facility. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's first argument was not preserved for appeal; and (2) Defendant was entitled to credit for time served at the START facility. View "State v. Tippets" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from a blood draw conducted pursuant to a search warrant, holding that there was no error.Defendant moved to suppress evidence obtained from a blood draw, arguing that Wheatland County Justice of the Peace Richard Egabakken lacked jurisdiction to issue the warrant because the crimes occurred in Golden Valley County. The district court denied the motion to suppress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it concluded that Justice of the Peace Egebakken had jurisdiction to issue a search warrant for Defendant's blood draw in Wheatland County. View "State v. Grussing" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the municipal court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss the charge of obstructing a peace officer for insufficient evidence, holding that the district court erred.Defendant was charged with obstructing a peace officer by attempting to walk away from officers while being questioned. Defendant moved to dismiss the charge for insufficient evidence, arguing that she could not knowingly obstruct the officer's enforcement of the law where the officer failed to inform her that she was being detained or otherwise required to remain on scene to answer questions. The municipal court denied the motion, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the obstruction charge. View "State v. Bennett" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court committing Appellant to the Montana State Hospital (MSH) to regain fitness after a psychologist determined Appellant was not fit to stand trial on pending criminal charges, holding that the district court correctly denied Appellant's motion to dismiss.Appellant pleaded guilty to drug-related charges. Before sentencing, the district court ordered that Appellant be committed to MSH to regain fitness. Appellant's counsel later filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that both charges should be dismissed pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 46-14-221(3)(a). The district court denied the motion to dismiss and later found Appellant fit to proceed. Appellant subsequently pleaded guilty through an Alford plea. The Supreme Court affirmed Appellant's conviction but remanded the case for the district court to conform its written judgment to the oral pronouncement of Appellant's sentence, holding that Appellant did not demonstrate that she was entitled to have the charges against her dismissed. View "State v. Rich" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the justice court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that particularized suspicion did not exist to support extending Defendant's traffic stop into a drug investigation.Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal possession of marijuana. On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress the State's evidence as the product of an illegal extension of the stop, arguing that the police officer lacked particularized suspicion to justify extending the traffic stop and ordering a canine sniff search. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that the justice court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. View "State v. Harning" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of sexual intercourse without consent, tampering with witnesses and informants, privacy in communications, and stalking, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.At issue on appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion by allowing the State to file a third amended information in the middle of trial and whether the district court's jury instruction on consent warranted reversal for plain error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed the State to file its third amended information mid-trial; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury on consent. View "State v. Lafournaise" on Justia Law