Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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Defendant appealed his conviction for deliberate homicide. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury on Defendant’s justifiable use of force defense without including a “forcible felony” component; (2) Defendant’s claims that the prosecutor’s comments regarding Defendant’s failure to tell police his self-defense story constituted plain error did not warrant plain error review because Defendant had not demonstrated that the State violated his fundamental rights; and (3) the prosecutor’s misstatement of the legal elements for justified use of lethal force did not constitute plain error. View "State v. Lackman" on Justia Law

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The district court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of aggravated DUI, agreeing with the justice court that evidence of Defendant’s prior DUI convictions proved an element of the charged crime of aggravated DUI that must be determined by the jury. On appeal, Defendant argued that it was impermissibly prejudicial to his interests to allow the jury to know that he was twice convicted of DUI. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because proof of the prior DUIs was required as an element of the offense of aggravated DUI, the evidence of prior DUIs was not erroneously admitted. View "State v. Meyer" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in ruling that Defendant’s federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine did not bar a subsequent state prosecution for possession of dangerous drugs on double jeopardy grounds. Defendant pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute in federal court. Thereafter, Defendant moved to dismiss the State’s drug-related charges, arguing that the State prosecution violated Montana’s double jeopardy prohibition. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. Thereafter, Defendant entered an Alford plea to one count of felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant’s possession of methamphetamine for his personal use was a distinct and separate prosecutable offense pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-102(1). View "State v. Glass" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the district court's finding that particularized suspicion existed to support an investigatory stop was clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court of Montana held that, based on the totality of the circumstances, a witness's 911 report contained sufficient indicia of reliability to form the basis for the highway patrol trooper's particularized suspicion. Furthermore, the trooper independently formed particularized suspicion that defendant was drinking under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence and motion to dismiss. The court affirmed the judgment. View "State v. Foster" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s imposition of criminal defense fees and other costs in the judgment against Defendant. On appeal from his convictions for felony driving under the influence, negligent endangerment, and six other driving offenses, Defendant argued that the district court erred in imposing fees, costs, and surcharges in the written judgment because they were not imposed in the oral pronouncement of the sentence or following a consideration of Defendant’s ability to pay. The Supreme Court held that the imposition of fees and costs was not unlawful because Defendant had notice and an opportunity to respond to the presentence investigation report conditions relating to fees, costs, and surcharges being included in his sentence and because Defendant did not object when the district court failed to inquire into his ability to pay those costs. View "State v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his convictions for obstructing a peace officer, partner or family member assault and three counts of criminal endangerment, among other offenses, rendered after the district court rejected a plea agreement entered into between Defendant and the State and the case proceeded to trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is not reviewable on direct appeal because it is not apparent based on the record; and (2) assuming, for the sake of argument, that the State breached the plea agreement, Defendant elected the remedy of withdrawing his plea in response to the alleged breach and could not now obtain the alternative remedy of specific performance. View "State v. Stratton" on Justia Law

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A jury found Defendant guilty of sexual assault against R.W., the eight-year-old daughter of Defendant’s former girlfriend, and acquitted him of a separate charge against K.W., R.W.’s twin sister. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, holding (1) even if a certain remark made by the prosecutor during closing argument was improper, the statement was not prejudicial; (2) the district court did not commit plain error when it failed to give a specific unanimity instruction to the jury in light of the parties’ presentation of the case; and (3) the district court’s failure to disclose to the defense information from the medical and counseling records that it reviewed in camera did not warrant a new trial. View "State v. Stutzman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed its plain meaning construction of Mont. Code Ann. 46-13-401(2) and clarified the correct shorthand calculation method for measuring the six-month speedy trial deadline, as manifest in State v. Ronningen and State v. Belgarde. The Court held that the municipal court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss due to lack of a speedy trial because Defendant’s trial was untimely under the plain meaning of Mont. Code Ann. 46-13-401(2). Thus, the Court reversed Defendant’s conviction for misdemeanor driving under the influence, third offense, and a related traffic offense, holding that the trial court failed to correctly measure the six-month speedy trial deadline under section 46-13-401(2). View "City of Helena v. Grove" on Justia Law

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Lance Christopher Pavlik was convicted for criminal offenses and sentenced to a Department of Corrections (DOC) commitment. Sandy VanSkyock, a DOC probation officer, requested that DOC override its usual preliminary screening process and, instead, place Pavlik directly at the Montana State Prison. The override request was approved. Pavlik later moved the district court to hold VanSkyock in contempt and sanction her in her individual capacity on the ground that she requested the DOC preliminary placement screening override based on falsified information. VanSkyock moved to dismiss the proceedings based on lack of jurisdiction, the statute of limitations, and because she cannot be held in contempt for DOC’s valid placement decision. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. Upon VanSkyock’s request that the Supreme Court intervene via supervisory control the Supreme Court reversed, holding that Pavlik’s motion failed to state a cognizable claim for criminal contempt as a matter of law. Remanded for denial of Pavlik’s contempt motion. View "Vanskyock v. Twentieth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the district court did not err by determining that Appellant’s Texas convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) constituted prior convictions for purposes of sentencing on his current Montana DUI conviction. Appellant pled guilty to the DUI but challenged the use of his prior DUI convictions, concluding that he was convicted in Texas under a lower standard than Montana law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Texas DUI statutes were similar to Montana’s laws in effect at that time, rendering Appellant’s Texas convictions as prior convictions for purposes of Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-734(1)(a). View "State v. Olson" on Justia Law