Justia Civil Rights 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 reversed the judgment of the district court holding that Montana law precluded a jury trial on Plaintiff's federal discrimination claims even though federal law allows a jury trial for federal claims, holding that the district court erred when it concluded that Montana procedural law applied under the Montana Human Rights Act (MHRA) and denied Plaintiff a jury trial on his federal claims. Plaintiff, who has a visual disability, brought claims alleging that the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services engaged in intentional employment discrimination on the basis of his sex and/or disability, in violation of state and federal anti discrimination statutes. The district court concluded that state law precluded a jury trial on Plaintiff's federal discrimination claims because Montana's antidiscrimination statutes do not provide for a trial by jury and because state procedural rules govern procedures in state courts. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff's claims were separate and distinct from his state law claims and that Plaintiff had a right to a jury trial on his federal claims in state district court. View "Spillers v. Third 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 reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of counsel's ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced and his parental rights were terminated. In arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel as it related to placement of the children and his stipulation to a treatment plan, Father pointed out that he was the non-offending, non-custodial parent and that there were no allegations of abuse or neglect ever brought in this case against him. Father asserted that but forms counsel's failure to correct legal misunderstandings, failure to object to an unnecessary treatment plan, and failure to request a placement hearing, his parental rights would not have been terminated. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division did not prove the existence of good cause to deny immediate placement with Father; and (2) Father's fundamental rights were prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re B.H." 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

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On appeal from a guilty plea to possessing 144 pounds of marijuana the Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court for recalculation of Defendant's fine, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional to the extent it does not allow the sentencing judge to consider whether the thirty-five percent market value fine is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. Section 45-9-130(1) requires a district court to impose a mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine in drug possession convictions. Pursuant to section 45-9-130(1), the district fined Defendant $75,600, which was thirty-five percent of the market value of the marijuana she was convicted of possessing. On appeal, Defendant argued that the mandatory thirty-five percent market value fine imposed in every drug possession conviction violated her constitutional right against excessive fines because the statute does require consideration of the offender's financial resources, the nature of the crime committed, and the nature of the burden the required fine would have on the offender. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that section 45-9-130(1) is facially unconstitutional and that a sentencing judge may not impose the thirty-five percent market value fine without considering the factors in Mont. Code Ann. 46-18-231(3). View "State v. Yang" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court affirming the judgment of the municipal court denying Defendant's motions to suppress evidence, holding that the municipal court erred when it determined that a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation existed at the completion of a community caretaker stop. Specifically, the Court held that the municipal court's determination that the police officer obtained a particularized suspicion to conduct a DUI investigation during the scope of his community caretaker stop of Defendant was clearly erroneous because the objective factors present at the completion of the community caretaker stop, in the absence of the additional indicators observed later, did not support an inference that Defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. Therefore, the Court reversed the municipal court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, vacated Defendant's conviction for misdemeanor DUI, and remanded the matter with instructions to dismiss the case with prejudice. View "State v. Metz" on Justia Law