Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant to five years in the Montana State Prison, holding that Defendant’s attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel and that Defendant was prejudiced as a result. Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal possession of dangerous drugs, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, and obstructing a peace officer. The district court sentenced Defendant to five years in the Montana State Prison for criminal possession of dangerous drugs. On appeal, Defendant argued that his defense counsel’s failure to cite Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-202 and its application in State v. Brendal, 213 P.3d 448 (Mont. 2009), amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel that prejudiced the result of his sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Defendant’s attorney provided ineffective assistance by filing to cite section 45-9-202 and Brendal, resulting in prejudice to Defendant. The Court remanded the cause for resentencing. View "State v. Walter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of speeding, holding that the State’s comment to the jury that Defendant had already been convicted of the charge in the justice court required reversal. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of speeding, in violation of Mont. Code Ann. 61-8-303(1)(b). On appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err when it did not dismiss the case for lack of particularized suspicion and for lack of corroborating evidence; (2) Defendant was entitled to a new trial because the State’s comment that Defendant was previously convicted of speeding presented prejudicial facts not before the jury’s consideration and implicated the fundamental fairness of the proceedings; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it did not allow Defendant to argue his theory of law to the jury that multiple witnesses are required for a conviction. View "State v. French" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court revoking a deferred sentence for failure to pay restitution, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) substantial evidence supported the district court’s finding that Defendant did not make good faith efforts to pay his restitution and supervision fees; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in revoking Defendant’s deferred sentence and imposing a new sentence; (3) revocation did not violate the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment because Defendant did not make good faith effort to pay his restitution; and (4) Defendant’s obligation to pay restitution was not a fine within the purview of the Excessive Fines Clause of Mont. Const. art. II, 22 because it was remedial in nature. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence gathered from a vehicle after a traffic stop, holding that sufficient evidence did not exist for an extended stop. Defendant was charged with drug-related offenses. Defendant filed motion to suppress evidence obtained after a traffic stop. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the police officer had sufficient facts to expand the traffic stop into a drug investigation and particularized suspicion to justify a canine search of the vehicle’s exterior. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the officer lacked the particularized suspicion required to extend the traffic stop into a drug investigation, and the stop violated Mont. Code Ann. 46-5-403; and (2) the extension of the stop to request a search by a K-9 unit violated the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed an order of the district court affirming the Human Rights Commission’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of Costco Wholesale Corporation and dismissing Plaintiff’s claim of unlawful discrimination in employment on the basis of a disability and failure to make reasonable accommodation, holding that the district court did not err in affirming the Commission’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Costco where Costco rebutted Plaintiff’s prima facie case of discrimination with evidence that it terminated his employment for legitimate business reasons that were not a pretext for discrimination. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that Costco terminated him for conduct resulting from a disability, which cannot qualify as a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for termination. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that Costco came forward with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff. View "Jackson v. Costco Wholesale" on Justia Law

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In this dependent neglect proceeding, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order permanently placing A.J.C. in the primary care of his maternal grandmother and denying the motion filed by the Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to place A.J.C. with Father, holding that the district court violated Father’s constitutional fundamental right to parent. After the Department became formally involved with Mother, it placed A.J.C. in Grandmother’s care. The district court then adjudicated A.J.C. as a youth in need of care. After a hearing to determine a final parenting plan and a permanency plan for A.J.C., the court awarded Grandmother primary residential custody of A.J.C. The Department subsequently moved the court to approve an amended permanency plan in which the Department recommended placement of A.J.C. with Father. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that once Father successfully completed his court-ordered treatment plan and the Department determined Father to be a safe and appropriate placement, the district court unconstitutionally violated Father’s fundamental right to parent by placing A.J.C. with Grandmother. View "In re A.J.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for deliberate homicide, holding that the district court violated Defendant’s right to be present but that Defendant failed to demonstrate that the error was prejudicial. On appeal, Defendant argued that he was not included in several sidebars and in-chambers discussions during his trial and that his right of presence was violated twenty-three times. The Supreme Court held (1) the record supported Defendant’s assertion that he was not present in eight instances, but Defendant did not establish plain error in his exclusion from conferences; (2) because the burden was on Defendant to ensure the preservation of an adequate record for appeal, the district court did not err by failing to make a record of the various conferences that occurred during Defendant’s trial; (3) Defendant failed to rebut the State’s position that a violation of the public’s right to know cannot serve as a basis for overturning a criminal conviction; (4) the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing two of the State’s law enforcement witnesses to testify multiple times on direct examination; and (5) cumulative error did not warrant a new trial. View "State v. Hatfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granted the State’s motion to dismiss and Jefferson County’s motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs’ complaint against special deputy prosecutor Steven Shapiro, the State, and Jefferson County, holding that the district court properly concluded that Shapiro was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and that this immunity was properly extended to both Jefferson County and the State. Plaintiffs brought this complaint seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of their child’s constitutional rights, a Dorwart claim, and a malicious prosecution claim. Plaintiffs also filed a negligence claim against Jefferson County. The district court granted the motion to dismiss brought by the State and Shapiro on the grounds of absolute prosecutorial immunity. The court then granted summary judgment for Jefferson County on the grounds that the public duty doctrine barred Plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) correctly concluded that Shapiro was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity when he signed an affidavit establishing probable cause to file a petition initiating delinquency proceedings against Plaintiffs’ child; (2) properly extended this immunity to Jefferson County and the State; and (3) correctly concluded that the public duty doctrine prevented recovery against Jefferson County. View "Renenger v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of stalking Thresa Goldberg and sentencing Defendant to five years in prison with two years suspended but instructed the court to correct its written judgment regarding the amount of restitution to be paid by Defendant. A jury convicted Defendant of stalking and the district court sentenced Defendant to a term of imprisonment and $42,798.90 in restitution. The Supreme Court held (1) although Defendant could not see Goldberg during her testimony, Defendant’s trial satisfied the elements of confrontation and did not violate his rights under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Mont. Const. art. II, 24; and (2) the district court’s written judgment requiring Defendant to pay $47,798.90 in restitution was incorrect and should be corrected to match the amount of $42,262.06 in restitution included in the restitution order. View "State v. Weik" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for felony possession of methamphetamine and misdemeanor possession of marijuana possession but reversed his sentence, holding that trial counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced Defendant during sentencing. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant’s contention that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file a motion to suppress evidence found during a search incident to arrest because Defendant’s initial arrest was illegal was not reviewable on direct appeal; (2) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by incorrectly advising the district court that it had no authority to suspend or defer Defendant’s sentence; and (3) the district court improperly imposed multiple court information technology user surcharges in Defendant’s sentence. The Court remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. View "State v. Larsen" on Justia Law