Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment and sentence of the district court convicting Defendant of three counts of felony assault with a weapon and two counts of felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs and sentencing him to thirty years’ imprisonment, holding that the district court violated Defendant’s right to avoid double jeopardy. The drug possession charges for which Defendant was convicted involved possession of methamphetamine and possession of Lorazepam. During trial and after the State rested, the district court dismissed the Lorazepam charge. The jury found Defendant guilty of all charges, including possession of Lorazepam. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded for dismissal of the Lorazepam drug possession drug and vacation of the sentence imposed thereon, holding (1) Defendant’s right to be free of double jeopardy was violated because he was convicted of an offense of which he had already been acquitted; (2) the district court did not err in maintaining Defendant’s appointed legal counsel to represent him; and (3) the specified conditions and surcharges of the judgement must be stricken and amended to conform the written judgment with the court’s oral pronouncement and Montana law. View "State v. Barrows" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court refusing to strike for cause a juror who was a state employee in this action filed against the State to recover damages for injuries sustained in a collision with a vehicle owned and operated by the Montana Department of Transportation. Plaintiff sued the State for its employee’s negligence. After a trial, a jury found Plaintiff fifty-one percent at fault in the accident. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s refusal to excuse a juror for cause due to his employment with the State. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff’s challenge for cause because the juror demonstrated that he could act with entire impartiality. View "Bockman-Fryberger v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of conviction convicting Defendant of four counts of felony violation of a protective order, holding that the district court erred in failing to address Defendant’s speedy trial claim. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by denying his motion to dismiss in which he collaterally challenged the validity of the underlying 2006 protective order and erred by failing to analyze his speedy trial claim. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err by denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges at issue and did not err by failing to grant a new trial or otherwise set aside Defendant’s verdict of conviction in this case; and (2) based on the State’s concession, the district court erroneously failed to address Defendant’s speedy trial claim. View "State v. Huffine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the charge of sexual intercourse without consent of a minor under sixteen years old for the 1987 rape of an eight-year-old girl, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 45-1-205(9) violates the Ex Post Facto clause when applied, as here, to cases in which the statutory of limitations expired before subsection (9) came into effect. In denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss, the district court determined that section 43-1-205(9), which was passed after the statute of limitations for the charged crime had expired, revived the otherwise time-barred prosecution of Defendant. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) on its face, the statute is retrospective in its operation; and (2) Stogner v. California, 539 U.S. 607 (2003), compels the conclusion that the charges against Defendant must be dismissed. View "Tipton v. Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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Montana’s Preferred Provider Agreements Act (MPPAA), Mont. Code Ann. 33-22-1701 to -1707, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Montana Constitution. Plaintiff sought and received treatment from St. Peter’s Hospital for various injuries and symptoms. Because Plaintiff did not have health insurance the Hospital billed Plaintiff directly, but almost all of Plaintiff’s treatments costs were either covered by another party’s insurance or significantly discounted by the Hospital’s financial-need discount. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit arguing that the statutes authorizing the Hospital’s billing practices violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Montana Constitution. The district court concluded that the MPPAA creates similarly situated classes but does not violate Plaintiff’s equal protection rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the MPPAA, which authorizes the Hospital’s billing practices, does not deprive Plaintiff of her right to equal protection. View "Gazelka v. St. Peter's Hospital" on Justia Law