Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of partner family member assault (PFMA), holding that Defendant's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) was not susceptible to review on direct appeal and that Defendant failed to establish that the district court allowed testimonial material into the jury room during deliberations. On appeal, Defendant argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to object to witnesses' and the State's references to his probation status and, further, referenced Defendant's probation status herself. Defendant also argued that the district court abused its discretion by sending testimonial materials into the jury room during deliberations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court will not address Defendant's IAC claim on direct appeal because the record was silent as to why defense counsel did not object to the probation references and testimony; and (2) the record did not establish that testimonial material was provided to the jury during its deliberations. View "State v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming a justice court verdict finding Appellant guilty of failure to obtain landowner permission for hunting, holding the district court correctly affirmed Appellant's conviction. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) under Mont. Code Ann. 87-6-415, the justice court and the district court did not err when they declined to adopt Appellant's argument that "hunting" and "taking or attempting to take" a game animal are separate, distinct actions that the State has the burden of proving; and (2) the justice court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to submit its jury instructions after the deadline. View "State v. Cherry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part Appellant's designation as a persistent felony offender (PFO) and corresponding enhanced sentence, holding that Appellant was improperly sentenced as a PFO. Because a fourth or subsequent driving under the influence (DUI) offense constitutes a felony under Montana law, the State charged Appellant's fourth and fifth DUI offenses, committed in 2015, as felonies. Before Appellant was convicted of either felony offense, the State gave notice of its intent to seek PFO designation for Appellant. In 2017, approximately two weeks after a new law took effect changing the definition of a PFO, Appellant pleaded guilty to both felony DUIs. Appellant argued that the 2015 PFO statute no longer applied and that he did not satisfy the requirements necessary to trigger PFO status under the new definition. The district court concluded that the 2015 PFO statute applied and designated Appellant a PFO. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) properly applied the 2015 version of the PFO statute at Appellant's sentencing hearing; but (2) erred in sentencing Appellant as a PFO because Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-501 expressly requires the existence of a felony conviction before the commission of the principal offense to effectuate a valid PFO designation. View "State v. Running Wolf" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court revoking Appellant's deferred sentence for criminal possession of illicit drugs, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it revoked Appellant's deferred sentence after he failed to report to his probation officer for three months. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Appellant absconded in violation of his probation conditions such that Defendant's probation officer was not required to exhaust Montana Incentives and Interventions Grid for Adult Probation & Parole procedures prior to initiating revocation proceedings against Appellant; (2) substantial evidence supported the district court's conclusion that Appellant failed to report for the purpose of avoiding supervision and that the probation office made reasonable efforts to contact Appellant; and (3) therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in revoking Appellant's deferred sentence. View "State v. Oropeza" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld a district judge's order allowing the Montana State Hospital (MSH) to involuntarily medicate Petitioner if he refused to take prescribed antipsychotic medication, holding that the district court did not err in finding that important governmental interests were at stake in this case and that involuntary medication was likely to render Petitioner competent to stand trial and was in Petitioner's best interest. Petitioner was charged with five felonies arising from an incident including the shooting death of a law enforcement officer. Petitioner was found mentally unfit to proceed to trial due to a mental disorder, and MSH proposed a treatment plan, including antipsychotic medication, to try to render Petitioner mentally fit to stand trial. Because Petitioner refused to take the medication the State requested the district court to take the medication or allow MSH to give him involuntary injections of the medication. The district court granted the State's motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the State met its burden of proving the relevant facts by clear and convincing evidence. View "Barrus v. Montana First Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court reversing an order entered by the municipal court granting Appellant's motion to suppress and dismiss, holding that the district court erred in determining that the police officer possessed particularized suspicion to stop Appellant's vehicle based solely on the discrepancy between the vehicle's color and the color listed on the registration. The officer in this case conducted a traffic stop to investigate the color discrepancy between the vehicle and that listed on the registration. Appellant was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. Appellant filed a motion to suppress and dismiss, arguing that the officer lacked particularized suspicion that Appellant was engaged in car theft or other criminal activity necessary to justify the vehicle stop. The municipal court granted the motion and dismissed the case with prejudice. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, standing alone, the color discrepancy between Appellant's vehicle and that listed on the vehicle's registration was too thin to constitute particularized suspicion. View "State v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of assault with a weapon and aggravated assault, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to self-representation by refusing his request to represent himself at an omnibus hearing but otherwise allowing Defendant to represent himself for the duration of his case; and (2) correctly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant a new trial after the court considered the victim's post-trial recantations and the evidence of Defendant's guilt produced at trial. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of burglary, theft, and violating an order of protection, holding that Defendant waived his right to be present at all critical stages of his criminal proceedings and that the district court did not err in concluding that Defendant did not unequivocally assert his right to represent himself. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court denied his constitutional right to be present at a critical stage of his criminal proceedings when it held a hearing in his absence and without defense counsel and denied him the right to represent himself when he unequivocally waived his right to counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant voluntarily waived his right to be present at the hearing; and (2) substantial evidence existed to support the district court's determination that Defendant did not intend to represent himself, and therefore, the district court did not violate Defendant's constitutional right to do so. View "State v. Marquart" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ordering restitution after convicting Defendant of embezzling money from her employer, holding that the district court did not violate Defendant's due process rights when it did not hold an evidentiary hearing before ordering her to pay restitution. The State charged Defendant with theft of property by embezzlement, alleging that Defendant stole more than $7,000 from her employer. The jury found Defendant guilty. The State sought restitution for the amount Defendant stole and for expenses her employer incurred investigating and assisting in the prosecution. The district court entered an order requiring Defendant to pay restitution. Defendant appealed, arguing that the court abused her due process rights by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to preserve a due process challenge to the lack of an evidentiary hearing. View "State v. Johns" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that Defendant did not meet his burden of establishing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant was found guilty of one count of sexual intercourse without consent and other sexual offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant then filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The district court determined that Appellant had received effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not carry his burden of establishing that the district court's findings were clearly erroneous and that his counsel's performance was unreasonable or deficient. View "Cheetham v. State" on Justia Law